Legendary Canadian circus company Cirque Du Soleil knows how to put on a spectacle. And its thirty-fifth show – making its European premiere at their traditional London stomping ground of the Royal Albert Hall – is no different.
‘Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities’ is a lavishly designed (by Stéphane Roy) ode to the Victorian Age of Wonder. It makes full use of the height and scale of the Royal Albert Hall’s auditorium to surreally evoke the period’s heady collision of imagination and technological advances. There’s a beautifully realised steampunk edge to the various contraptions and robots on stage. It’s a vision in bronze hues of our first steps towards flight and the flickering lights of early cinema.
However, fully grasping the underlying narrative definitely needs a flick through the show’s programme. The Seeker – a scientist-like character who looks like he’s stepped out of a Pee-wee Herman film – wants to unlock the secrets of his cabinet of curiosities. After essentially giving himself an electric shock, the inhabitants of ‘Curiosistan’ appear on a locomotive and do their weird and wonderful thing.
It’s a novel approach by Michel Laprise, who has progressed from Cirque Du Soleil performer to this show’s writer and director. It’s something of a shame, then, that it takes a little while for the wow-factor to really kick in. There are some inventive performances at the start, like Anne Weissbecker’s aerial acrobatics on a bicycle and comic Facundo Giminez’s ‘invisible’ circus, but they sometimes feel like they’re competing with the lavish set for attention.
However, starting with contortionists Ayagma Tsybenova, Baasansuren Enkhbaatar, Bayarma Parry and Imin Tsydendambaeva as The Seeker’s electric eels brought elastically to life, the show draws you in. Andrii Bondarenko’s hand-balancing act, Upside Down World – in which a guest at a dinner party climbs up an ever-growing tower of chairs to reach a levitating candle, only to encounter his mirror image doing the same from a table suspended from the ceiling – is a breathtaking, visually arresting highlight of the show.
The second half is a more confident, satisfyingly balanced combination of eye-popping spectacle and inventive playfulness. From the nautically designed, Jules Verne-inspired Acro Net, act to the staggeringly far-flung bodies of the Banquine acrobatics, the show pops with precision-timed adrenalin. But there’s also room among these circus feats for Nico Baxias’s irresistibly sweet Theatre of Hands, which uses cameras and projections to bring us into a miniature world.
As with some previous Cirque Du Soleil shows, there’s still the issue of the female performers sometimes feeling more ‘ornamental’ than their male counterparts. But, by now, you know what you’re getting with a show created by this grandee company of contemporary circus – a visual feast that few others can match in scale or talent. And there’s plenty to capture the imagination in this cabinet of wonders.