Cirque du Soleil: ‘Luzia’ review

Theatre, Circuses
3 out of 5 stars
Cirque du Soleil: Luzia, 2019

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

You always know what you’re getting with Cirque du Soleil, but this Mexico-themed show is one of the Montréal circus giant’s strongest

‘Always different, always the same’ is how the late John Peel famously described his favourite band The Fall, and it’s a description that could quite tidily be applied to Cirque du Soleil’s annual start-of-the-year stand at the Royal Albert Hall. The venue and the run-length are resolutely identical year on year, the prices resolutely astronomical, and while the directors and the show titles change, you kind of know what you’re getting: spectacular acrobatics, new-agey costumes, visuals and music, and ‘light relief’ clowning bits that make you pray for death’s tender kiss.

The Daniele Finzi Pasca-directed ‘Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico’ conforms to most of these things, but is definitely on the stronger side. Great credit is due to composer Simon Carpentier, costume designer Giovanna Buzzi and whoever the hell designed the rain wall that steals the show in the first half, but at its best ‘Luzia’ marshals a genuinely awesome spectacle that lives up to the dreamy title. A euphorically hallucinatory world stuffed with weird creatures is given a widescreen dream-folk soundtrack with a mariachi tinge, and the capacity to turn the entire yawning space of the RAH into a canvas for the weird shapes projected by the impressive rain machine.

I’m not sure you’d guess it was about Mexico if it didn’t say so in the title, but in some ways that’s good: there are no naff homages to the Day of the Dead or Frida Kahlo or whatever; it’s more a sort of agreeably trippy tribute to the country’s flora and fauna. (Although the Swiss Finzi Pasca now lives in Mexico, it is perhaps worth noting that there don’t seem to be many Mexicans involved. There's a smattering in the cast but they’re in no way dominant – there are more Belarusians).

The acrobatics are on the old-school side: juggling, a contortionist, some people dressed as hummingbirds jumping through hoops… There are no totally audacious set-piece spectacles à la  the Wheel of Death and the like that we’ve seen in previous years (though there is some heart-in-mouth swing work), and none of it feels toweringly original. But the skill levels are through the roof, and being generally restrained means the show feels more coherent than some of its predecessors, which seemed like a series of set pieces with lengthy gaps in the middle.

Even the clowning verges on the bearable: there is a very loose plot about Fool Koller’s gangly Clown falling out of a plane and then stomping around looking for a drink of water. This isn’t funny but is basically fine, except for a truly purgatorial audience interaction bit in which he prats around with a whistle and an inflatable ball for what seems like several lifetimes. But you sign up for this stuff when you go and see the Cirque, and for the most part ‘Luzia’ is an agreeably soulful spectacle that fruitfully tinkers with a well-worn formula.

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