Far East meets West End in a dazzling display comprising superbly decadent costumes, astonishing acrobatic displays, a dizzying mix of balancing, tumbling, spinning and many other traditional and contemporary Chinese elements. The highly-anticipated and internationally acclaimed production of ShangHi by Cirque du Ciel returns to the UK by overwhelming popular demand. So with dates planned in Durham and Darlington Whatsonstage.com Northeast took the opportunity to find out all about what is in store.

Having already captivated and enthralled audiences across the world, Cirque du Ciel’s ShangHi has been hailed by critics as ‘the most daring, breathtaking and stunning family entertainment show of the year’.

With more than 30 amazingly multi-talented and highly-skilled performers, this marvellous two-hour spectacle combines death-defying acrobatics, modern dance, martial arts and an enchanting storyline which will take you beyond gravity.

“The storyline centres around a little girl who awakes to the sound of a noisy Shanghai street,” explains Stephen Leatherland, the show’s producer. “In a half-dreamy state, she starts to imagine being an acrobat and gets taken into the world of the acrobat and begins to participate.”

The production was originally staged in China and directed by Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Caron, who was also responsible for the multi-million dollar productions Dralion and Ka. ShangHi has now been reworked to appeal to a British audience of all ages.

“I went to China in 2010 and not only saw the show in its original format, but worked with the Chinese performers on starting to make some changes to make the storyline more prominent,” Stephen reveals.

The revamped show toured the UK last autumn and was an instant success, selling out theatres and garnering rave reviews along the way.

“The response was absolutely incredible. The show received five-star reviews from all the critics and we had audience members returning to see the show for a second time the following evening.”

So, to what does Stephen attribute the show’s phenomenal success? “Quite simply, there’s not been anything like this in the country before. A lot of the show is aerial-based so we have a girl who performs with beautiful aerial silks, two girls who perform on hoops and do everything that you would expect to see on a trapeze, and the climax is the Chinese Monkey Poles routine which sees ten guys climb them at an amazing speed and perform various feats. It really is absolutely breathtaking and it makes me scared, as the producer, in case they sustain any serious injuries!”

As Stephen explains, all the performers are highly trained and extremely fit.

“Actually performing the show keeps them in good shape but, that being said, when they get to each new venue they have to do two or three hours warm-up to check the size of the stage and make sure that everything will work.”

Such is the success of the show that interest is spreading around the world and Stephen has received enquiries from as far afield as Scandinavia and countries in the Middle East.

“The level of interest has been quite extraordinary,” says Stephen. “So much so, that we have now engaged the services of an international promoter!”

Stephen launched his director-producer career in 1993 when he produced and directed his Lullabies of Broadway at the London Player’s Theatre. Since then he has directed and produced many shows throughout theatres across the UK and Europe. He has brought a number of his productions to the region, including The Naked Truth and Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story. “My motivation is my desire to bring West End quality productions to audiences all over the country,” he says.

A former actor, Stephen played the part of Mickey in Blood Brothers in London’s West End, opposite the late and great Stephanie Lawrence, and also appeared in countless other productions such as The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Jesus Christ Superstar and Breezeblock Park. He has used his vast experience in the entertainment industry to approach ShangHi from a number of perspectives.

“When I saw the show in China, for me, the one thing that was missing was the story,” he admits. “The little girl was there and was introduced, initially, then you never saw her again in that capacity. I wanted to take the audience on a journey through the mysterious dreams of the little girl, as she delves into her fantasies.

“As an actor and director, it was important for me that the audience had something else to connect with, in addition to the amazing acrobatic skills.”

The production also now boasts more than 500 superb costumes, intricate scenery, fantastically evocative lighting and a score that enhances and highlights the magical aura of the show.

“The ambience for each performance must be perfect, too,” Stephen adds. “We have broken off a spectacular slice of Chinese culture and transported it all the way to the UK. From the moment you enter the theatre, you enter another world where we guarantee to get your pulses racing and your jaws dropping.”

As well as the astonishing routines, which also include Mexican hat juggling, the terrifying yet beautiful aerial displays, the perfectly synchronised Diablo demonstrations and the curiously-named ‘boy foot juggling’, audiences can expect to be entertained in a whole host of different ways.

“We set the scene by using multi-media,” explains Stephen. “So, for anybody who’s never been to China, the beginning of the show is almost like a travelogue. They can see the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and all the other landmarks they’ve heard about, in video format.”

Stephen is also keen to stress that the production is suitable for all members of the family of all ages.

“There’s nothing offensive about it,” he states. “You can take everyone from the smallest children to grannies and grandpas and everybody will be absolutely gobsmacked and blown away by it.”

In fact, Stephen believes one critic managed to sum up the show perfectly in a single sentence.

“He said: ‘Prepare to be amazed, prepare to be stunned, prepare to be enthralled – but most of all, prepare to be entertained.'