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Cirque du Soleil: Alegría

  • Theatre, Circuses
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Cirque du Soleil: Alegria, Royal Albert Hall, 2024
Photo: Anne-Marie Forker

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This soppy, funny, OTT entertainment is Cirque du Soleil at its best

There are many reasons why this 40-year-old Canadian company is the world’s most famous circus. And you’ll witness them all in this lively reboot of a classic show from their back catalogue.

Lavish design, astonishing athletes, and deft direction that ushers you from giggles to gasps with - apparently - the greatest of ease. Your boss would love ‘Alegria’; so would their kids or your granny, and that’s the point. It’s precisely crafted entertainment – never too scary, never too crude, it’s charming and daring and silly and frou-frou and 100 percent enjoyable. 

The concept is high, bafflingly high. In the words of Franco Dragone, the original director: ‘Perhaps we need to rediscover that true ambition is not to reach for the stars, but to wipe the tear from our neighbour’s cheek.’ Quite so.

What this translates to onstage is a Fool on a throne, done up like a fin-de-siecle Rumpelstiltskin, flattered by knickerbockered courtiers, wigged and knickerbockered in sugared-almond-coloured silk. Angels and nymphs perform for him, and so do bronze-trousered ‘Bronx’ strongmen. Confusingly, these are not men from the Bronx (the troupe is mostly from Russia and Ukraine), but apparently signify ‘forces of change’. It is ardent nonsense – but it works, binding together very different circus acts in a gorgeous, poignant world with a high emotional pulse and flow. 

The clowns – Spanish duo Pablo Bermejo and Pablo Gomis Lopez – are a delight. It’s unusual for the light relief to be the highlight of a circus, but the story of their odd-couple friendship really is the heart of this one. It’s mimed hilariously via classic breakup and makeup scenes, one in a dazzling artificial snowstorm that fills the Royal Albert Hall with confetti. These gifted mimes create an emotional palette to match the melodramatic production design: poignant, daft, sweet, and gothically OTT. Physically, their comedy moves are as impressive as the svelte aerialists above them - they nod like chickens, sulk like toddlers, fight like teenage girls and bring the house down.

The circus skills are – as you would expect from Cirque du Soleil – world class. A butch, pounding fire knife dance from Falaniko Solomona Penesa gets the testosterone flowing; so does the traditional flying trapeze finale which is extremely muscular and involves a dozen athletes, mostly enormous men, hurling themselves up to the rafters in simultaneous double and triple somersaults. My personal favourite was Yulia Makeeva and Alexey Turchenko’s swooping love duet on the aerial straps. All acts show strength and skill but this one had gorgeous choreography too, intimate and romantic, sealed with a gravity-defying upside-down kiss. 

The music is - as you would expect - awful. Imagine fellow-Quebecker Celine Dion performing a post-breakup karaoke set in a Eurotrash hotel lobby and you’re in the zone. But, like the bizarre story concept, it works. The trashy, emosh highs, followed by even higher highs, are the right engine to drive this show on. 

It’s become traditional for critics to moan that Cirque du Soleil’s polished, expensive spectacle lacks the thrill and danger of ‘real’ circus. In my childhood I snuck into to plenty ‘real’ shows, in wobbly tents, where you could taste the petrol, the sweat and risk of painful death, and I say: hook those precious artists up to safety wires and carry me to the Royal Albert Hall please, because ‘real’ circus is ‘really’ stressful and scary.

To be fair, I’ve seen some Cirque shows in recent years that have seemed repetitive and soulless, dollar signs reflected in their eyes. But not ‘Alegria’: it mingles the consummate professionalism that comes from big budgets and deep experience with a fresh energy and life.

Written by
Caroline McGinn


£55-£177. Runs 2hr 5min
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