Cirque Du Ciel, Shanghi

Theatre Productions International Ltd.

Royal & Derngate, Northampton

From 06 April 2012 to 07 April 2012

Review by John Johnson

It is perhaps too disrespectful to the immensely talented performers of Cirque du Ciel from Shangai to call this a poor man's Cirque du Soleil. Certainly, the performers more than match their Canadian counterparts. However, the performance does lack the magic and surrealism that it seems to be searching for.

The piece is set up with a simple, if not completely concrete, idea that we are watching the dream of a young girl awoken by the noise of a busy Chinese city. This creates a throughline and a fantasy-like style to the performance. One wonders if perhaps a little more creativity and imagination may have been invested into the storyline.

The performance lacks the imagination and creativity of many Cirque du Soleil shows—the little tricks with lighting and sound, costume and character that are suggested but never quite make it. An example is the girl with her mini-acrobatic-poles set. This is a lovely idea that could have been explored further. In the performance, however, the prop goes no further than being presented to the audience.

That isn't to take anything away from the slick lighting and costume design by technical director Russell Goold. Yet as sparkly and colourful as the design is, there is a lack of real depth in both, and these again may have been developed. At the opening, as the protagonist points to different aspects of her dream, lighting is used particularly well to highlight the areas of the stage.

The strength in this performance is undoubtably that of the multi-talented company—their skill is very special and it is easy to see the quality of direction from Zhang Wan who has been training in gymnastics since the age of 7.

Wan’s influence is more that clear in several special moments. Most notable is the director’s specialism: the Chinese Poles. There were genuine gasps from the audience as the performers slid down the poles head first at breakneck speed.

The hat routine is fast and performed with exceptional timing— there is something about wanting to be on the side of the chap who is throwing (and catching) mutiple hats in the air. He did and we, the audience were—it is a real highlight of the performance.

The quartet of a street dance-inspired ‘acrobats with hoodies’ manages to bend and throw into seemingly impossible positions. Though slightly like a bad attempt to be hip, the sequence itself works incredibly well, with two of the youger performers working with two of the more seasoned cast. Add to this a superb ‘hoop jumping’ routine and you really are served with some mesmerising routines.

The company is made up of a plethora of experts including young acrobats who in appearance look no older than young teens. Their commitment and focus is outstanding throughout.

Music used within the show perhaps best sums up the performance as a whole with a mixture of inspiration and insipidness. On the one hand you have a passionate, live drummer whose accompaniment, though loud and brash, offered another (live) dimension to the piece. However, coupled with this is recorded music which is bland and repetitive and almost clashes with with the strength and beauty on stage.

Ending with lots of credit, where lots of credit is due, I would like to name each of the company personally, though an exact cast list was unavailable in the programme. It is the company who without doubt are the star attraction here. Those who enjoy ‘wow’ acrobatics will not be disappointed with Cirque du Ciel.

Cirque du Ciel tours the UK until 25th August 2012.