Review: Amaluna (Royal Albert Hall)

Cirque du Soleil return to the capital with their show based on Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest”

The invented isle of Amaluna may be full of noises – but "sweet airs"? Not so much. This returning Cirque du Soleil show is powered by bombastic pomp-rock, the band squealing out guitar solos. The show is loosely based on The Tempest: a magical island, home to a young girl called Miranda; after a storm, a young man washes up named Romeo… hang on?

Well, plot was never exactly Cirque Du Soleil’s strong point, and it’s typically incidental here, a low second to the world-class circus turns that range from the cheesily glitzy to the genuinely gasp-inducing. By now, most audience members will know if the company’s aesthetic is to their taste or not, but even if moon goddesses in diamante-studded pastel lycra or sexy pan-Asian warrior princesses scream naff to you, the sheer physical talent on display is still stunning.

Two unicyclists spin as fast and elegantly as figure skaters; gymnasts fling themselves around bars till they resemble a life-size version of Fussball. A trampoline seesaw is a sheer joy, while a terrific team of tumblers flip into brain-scrambling human pyramids. A balancing trick involving long palm fronds – which sounds snoozesome – is a highlight: it’s eerily mesmerising and deeply satisfying, like watching an Alexander Calder mobile constructed live.

The show boasts of having a 70 per cent female cast and all-female band; there’s a lot of feisty snarling from Amazons in tight, faintly tribal catsuits, while the musicians (cruelly dressed in teenage goth-style bustiers and long velvet coats) adopt the wide-legged stance of your classic '80s cock rock gods. But the conventional treatment of the boy-meets-girl plot is far from empowering, and the show and its score are too slick and safe for any raw rock’n’roll spirit.

Still, Miranda is – physically at least – a strong female lead: witness her hand-balancing, mid-air contortions. And while Romeo wears a pair of silver leather trousers that even an acrobat with impeccable pecs can’t pull off, he does stroll up and spin round a vertical pole as nonchalantly as if popping out for a pint of milk. C’est chic.

Less dashing is the clowning: Miranda and Romeo’s nanny and manservant, a larger-than-life pair, also fall in love throughout the show. But while the young lovers get to canoodle suggestively in a pool of water, these comic relief characters provide only irksome cackling, waring slapstick and feeble innuendo.

The Tempest inspo may be vague, but a magical island full of airy sprites and strange creatures is a pretty good fit for Cirque, and for the Albert Hall: aerial artists spiral around the cavernous space as if powered by something supernatural. Even if the trappings tend towards the tacky, there is still something magical about witnessing these improbable physical feats live.

Amaluna runs at the Royal Albert Hall until 26 February.

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