Amaluna (Royal Albert Hall)

Cirque du Soleil return to the Royal Albert Hall with their new touring show

Cirque du Soleil is a very particular sort of theatrical affair. Big, bold, and often brash, it sidesteps (or rather backflips clean over) subtlety and hits its audience full in the face with unashamed spectacle – huge sets, lavish costumes and bombastic scores that hype up the drama with every drumbeat. Last night's production, celebrating twenty years of Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall, was no exception.

Set on the island of Amaluna and (very) loosely based on The Tempest, the show follows Miranda as she falls for a sailor washed up in a storm created by her mother Prospera, one of the island's goddesses. As always, there's little narrative – the 'plot' is a framework around which to weave the acts – but if you aren't a stickler for a story, there's plenty to enjoy.

Mérédith Caron's nature-inspired costumes are beautiful and mind-bending – look out for a lizard whose tail seemingly has a mind of its own – and Scott Pask's soaring bamboo forest of a set is a striking backdrop. There are acts to satisfy all tastes – acrobats somersaulting through hoops and launching themselves skywards via teeterboards (adult-sized seesaws), group dances, displays of strength, and aerial artists spinning so quickly they become blurs of blue Lycra.

But there are problems, too. Perhaps it's our over-exposure to circus and cabaret, but throughout the show there is the unshakeable feeling that we've seen it all before. The clowning sections are also disappointing, downplaying the classic elements of the craft (slapstick, timing, pathos) in favour of lewd innuendo; one amorous scene in a boat is downright uncomfortable to watch. And the melodramatic, thrashing rock score, played albeit brilliantly by an all-female band (the production prides itself on its largely female cast) repeatedly overeggs the pudding. When an acrobat performs a balance routine 50 feet in the air with no harness, a little drum-rolling drama seems fitting. When it accompanies a simple juggling routine, it merely exposes the distinct safety of the situation. Suddenly it's just a bloke with good hand-eye coordination.

As if to illustrate the point, the biggest cheers of the night went to the quieter, more focused acts, during which we were granted some merciful respite from the guitar thrashing. Miranda (Julia Mykhailova) performs an awe-inspiring contortion act, all while balancing on one hand and, later, one of the island's goddesses (Lara Jacobs Rigolo) balances increasingly long bamboo sticks on top of one another to create a huge tree. Accompanied only by the amplified sound of her breathing, the result is hypnotic.

Most visitors to Cirque du Soleil already know what they're in for, and if you're in that camp you'll likely have a great night. Just don't expect anything particularly new or anything, in any way, understated.

Running time approx 2 hours and 30 minutes, including interval.

Amaluna runs at the Royal Albert Hall until 14 February.