At their best, nothing can rival Cirque du Soleil, but I wasn't bitten by the bugs at this insect-themed show - even though some acts leave you gawping

Cirque du Soleil: Ovo

Royal Albert Hall, London              Until Mar 4 ( touring Aug 16-Oct 21)

2hrs 15mins

Rating:

Cirque du Soleil started as a fringe circus in the mid-Eighties and has gone on to become a global showbiz phenomenon. 

At their best, there is nothing like them. Their water-themed masterpiece, O, resident in Las Vegas, is one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. 

But in too much of their output a corporate slickness set in long ago.

Cirque du Soleil started as a fringe circus in the mid-Eighties and has gone on to become a global showbiz phenomenon

Cirque du Soleil started as a fringe circus in the mid-Eighties and has gone on to become a global showbiz phenomenon

Ovo (Portuguese for egg) started life in 2009 but hasn’t been seen in Britain until now. It has 50 hugely talented acrobats and no expense is spared (reflected in the eye-watering seat prices and the £15 programme), but there is something a bit so-so about it. It works hard to make the critters you normally find stuck on your windscreen look amiable.

Acrobats portraying bugs, cockroaches, fleas, crickets, ants and butterflies all buzz about on a round stage. When a flamboyant bluebottle brings an egg into their happy insect community, he’s espied by a chunky female ladybird. Their romance is pretty much the only plot line in this scant story.

When the acts kick in, you get down to business. The red ants (Chinese acrobats) lie on their backs and start syncopated foot-juggling of corn-on-the-cobs – it puts the maize in amazing.

Two butterflies entwine with delicacy in a heart-stopping aerial act. British gymnast Alanna Baker (European Champion in 2011) is one of the spiders who can contort their body so that the back of the pelvis meets the top of the spine while balancing upside down on front teeth. That’s one act I won’t be trying at home.

Acrobats portraying bugs, cockroaches, fleas, crickets, ants and butterflies all buzz about on a round stage

Acrobats portraying bugs, cockroaches, fleas, crickets, ants and butterflies all buzz about on a round stage

Ovo has enough ‘Ooh, look, mummy’ moments to keep you gawping. But it is certainly no breakthrough for this increasingly predictable global circus brand

Ovo has enough ‘Ooh, look, mummy’ moments to keep you gawping. But it is certainly no breakthrough for this increasingly predictable global circus brand

The incredible balancing dragonfly (Kyle Cragle), whose blue limbs unfurl into quivering feelers before your eyes, is the evening’s most poetic feat of human- to-insect transformation.

But too often the evening feels like a collection of sundry acts in insect costume. There’s a clever Chinese chap who somersaults and unicycles on a wobbly slack wire – very skilled but a bit dull.

I like the man who must be the world’s best spinning diabolo act; and the show’s climax involves insects pinging thrillingly off trampolines and sticking on a high wall that acts as flypaper. But at heart it’s all a bit soulless. The live music – samba-flavoured electro-rock – is generic; and the slapstick comedy is provided by a fat scarab beetle that I wanted to swat long before the interval.

Cirque du Soleil now encourages the audience to film the acts, which means that you watch the show in the flickering light of numerous arm’s-length iPhones.

Ovo has enough ‘Ooh, look, mummy’ moments to keep you gawping. But it is certainly no breakthrough for this increasingly predictable global circus brand.

cirquedusoleil.com

 

Mischief Movie Night

Arts Theatre, London Until Jan 27, 1hr 

Rating:

In this improv exercise a troupe of lively young things invent a film following suggestions from the audience as to its genre, place and title. And so was born ‘Seamus Can’t Swim’, a thriller set around Loch Ness, with a live score.

With barely a few costumes and props, a team of eight gave us the tale of Old Jim (an OTT ‘old person’ with an impenetrable Scottish accent), Angry Bob from the council, the eponymous Seamus and several surreal plot tangents (I don’t think I’ll ever forget the scene of mass cat suicides). And there was the monster, of course, made up of flailing limbs and two torches.

The fun comes when the MC, who is also watching this mayhem, ‘pauses’ the action, then throws in curveball instructions to make their task even harder. The result? Goofy and engaging. And perhaps worth a second viewing.

Mark Cook

 

 

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