Guy Laliberté and Daniele Finzi Pasca
Cirque du Soleil
AO Arena, Manchester
Clowns are now regarded as sinister, menacing characters. Yet the clown in Corteo, conceived and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, is, while not actually a tragic figure, certainly one with pathos and a degree of weary dignity. On his deathbed, a clown looks back on his life and loves. In the spirit of his profession, different aspects of his personality (dreamer, giant) and figures from his past appear in a ramshackle procession (Corteo is Italian for "cortege") across, while angels float over, the stage.
Corteo is staged, by designer Jean Rabasse, as theatre-in-the-round. The audience is seated either side of a central stage which divides the massive AO Arena in Manchester. Yet, as the cast is capable of engaging the audience on both sides at the same time and the opposite side of the stage is generally in darkness obscuring the audience, the effect is more of a conventional proscenium stage.
Ironically, considering a clown is the central figure, the comedy aspects of Corteo are the least successful. The only sketch that really works is a game of golf in which the ball refuses to take part. Teatro Intimo featuring eight characters staging Romeo and Juliet while squeezed into a tiny theatre feels a bit like padding.
The humour works best when it is funny peculiar rather than funny ha-ha or even a bit cruel. A surreal scene of a series of empty shoes marching across the stage is oddly hilarious. A blind man walking the wrong way in the parade before unexpectedly plummeting through a hole in the stage might not be in the best of taste but is undeniably funny.
The sheer spectacle of Corteo is breathtaking, as is the pace of the show. The chandeliers which hang over the stage are, within minutes of the start, utilised as part of an acrobatics display. The audacity of the show is deeply impressive. It is one thing to bounce massive helium-filled balloons back and forth between the stage and the audience but doing so with a child-size Clowness holding onto them and dancing upon the hands of the crowd is unique.
Corteo induces a sense of wonder, balancing childhood innocence with moments of eerie beauty. The clown recalls his brothers and sisters gleefully bouncing from bed to bed in an athletic display. An artist marionette descends from the ceiling, draped in tinsel and spotlit, looking like an unearthly spider. The show does not shy away from a sense of the ridiculous—a pantomime horse suddenly makes an appearance.
The show is stunning but hardly relaxing; it is impossible to ignore the element of danger. Safety nets are rarely used and when they pop up, during the nail-biting acrobatics display that opens the second half, become part of the act—with cast members using them to leap across the stage. Generally, the only thing to break the fall of a performer in the unlikely event of an accident is, well, another performer. The cast draw attention to the danger, constantly putting themselves in the way of potential harm, walking in the way of flying skittles or even flying acrobats.
Corteo is a visually spectacular feast for the imagination.
Reviewer: David Cunningham