If you are considering running away with the circus, pack your bags because Cirque du Soleil is back in town with new show TOTEM.
It’s been twenty years since Cirque first rolled into London. In that time, they have become a billion-dollar global brand with shows on every continent bar Africa and Antarctica. Their latest production comes with a portentous mission statement: “Somewhere between science and legend, TOTEM celebrates our infinite potential, and traces Man’s journey from the very beginnings of life on Earth to our ultimate desire to fly.” You can’t fault the ambition there and, to a great extent, they deliver.
The bulk of the show combines the full range of human circus with some wacky costumes. We have Orientals juggling dinner bowls on unicycles, space Incas bouncing merrily on Russian bars and colourful amphibians leaping off high bars. There’s some clown action too with a pair of Neanderthals and Pippo Crotti’s Italian poseur*. Two yellow-coloured gymnasts (canaries?) make the most sexually-charged use of a high trapeze we’ve seen in some time and a pair of roller-skating Native Americans defy gravity (and common sense) while spinning around at impossible speeds on a tiny stage.
One word describes this production and that is “amazing”. Now that Cirque is 20% owned by Dubai financiers, there’s cash to splash and the whole show is a highly polished affair. Recent pretenders to the human circus throne (for example, ThisSideUp from Australia and Canadian compatriots Les 7 doigts de la main) will have to go some way to match the sheer scale of the imagination and production values on display here.
However, take care with your seats as those on the far ends of the “U-shaped” stage will not get the full effect of the video wall at the back of the room. The safety ropes used on the core Totem stunts take away some of their appeal. Aerial stunts can, of course, go very wrong but the obvious ropes diminish the stunt's impact, especially as the trapeze artists go without. Other performances are not up to the calibre of their London competitors, for example La Soiree has better examples of hoop dancing in Marawa and Jess Love (with an honourable mention to Captain Frodo’s hoop contortions). While TOTEM is a big-statement glitzy production - and amazing - the effort to make it an international show which can be carted around the world has robbed it of a certain earthiness which the more spit-and-sawdust La Soiree has in buckets.
TOTEM will be at the Royal Albert Hall until Thursday 17 February. There are no shows on Mondays but there are extra matinee performances on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices range between £35-£70 for adults and £24.50-£56 for children. TOTEM has a running time of 2 hours 30 minutes including an overlong 30 minute interval during which you may be tempted to buy a programme (£10).
La Soiree continues until February 27.
* Not a tautology.