Cirque du Soleil's Kurios at the Royal Albert Hall – review
The steampunk-infused spectacle runs until 5 March
Cirque du Soleil are back at the Royal Albert Hall, and back to doing what they do best, with this European premiere of Kurios, a satisfyingly old-school show from these masters of concept circus.
A steampunk-styled celebration of Victoriana, it features a medley of acts who emerge from an eccentric inventor's ‘cabinet of curiosities'. The acts themselves are thrilling, standouts including four contorting ‘electric eels', who writhe in such a way as to be indistinguishable from each other, and a high-flying trampoline troupe who somehow manage to bounce one member from the stage right up to the lighting rig.
There's also juggling, yo-yo-ing, aerial cycling, chair-climbing, balancing and, at the more intimate end of the spectrum, a delightful dance sequence performed entirely by hands. It's a glorious spectacle, and my nine-year-old daughter was delightedly agog throughout (though a word of warning: the sightlines are woeful for younger audiences in the unraked section of the stalls). There's a purity and a playfulness to the whole thing that is genuinely infectious and the perfect tonic to these straightened times.
Stephane Roy's set designs and Phillipe Guillotel's costumes are a real visual feast, ensuring you never quite know where to look from the moment you sit down. The stage is awash with eccentric characters, many of whom you'll see adorning posters across the capital this month: a man dressed as an accordion, a hoop-skirted vamp, a semi-robotic individual who carries a lady around in his mechanical costume, a couple flying in a bi-plane. At times it's like watching a Dali painting come to life.
Not everything electrifies, notably the clowning interludes. One sees a hapless audience member being invited on stage by Facundo Giminez to observe his (albeit accurate) cat impressions. His invisible circus routine, which culminates in him being chased off stage by an imaginary lion, is also a bit of a damp squib. But these are pretty minor hiccups in Michel Laprise's otherwise highly dynamic production.
Having made shows about Michael Jackson, The Beatles and even Lionel Messi, it's good to see Cirque du Soleil getting back into less nakedly commercial territory. There's real artistry here, from the balletic choreography of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Yaman Okur to the jazz-infused original score (superbly performed by the onstage band) composed by Raphaël Beau and Bob and Bill. It's also grounded in genuinely interesting intellectual ideas: those aforementioned trampoliners are styled as characters from the works of Jules Verne and Georges Méliès.
But ultimately this is about enjoying the way such a big, bold spectacle can bring out the child in all of us. Kurios is a show that has its feet planted firmly in the sawdust, even as its astonishing acrobats soar high above us.