A cabinet of wonders

The latest incarnation of those innovators of modern day concept circus performance, Cirque du Soleil, is Kurios (Royal Albert Hall), a steampunk inspired production which showcases their extraordinary talent in an event which the performers demonstrate their obvious joie de vivre at being part of this global phenomenon. I’m also pleased to say that unlike some of their more recent shows, slightly fawning celebrations of the likes of The Beatles and Michael Jackson, this is a welcome return to an intriguing artistic narrative. In fact, the posse of eclectic acts that magically appear from a cabinet of curiosities owned by a whimsical inventor – a Seeker – are an array of human tricks and spectacular feats that are both eye catching joy and mind blowing. Otherworldly mechanical characters a la Jules Verne.
Where to begin. The giant trampoline is to my simple mind an incredible feat of kinetic engineering. While one member of the troupe is being catapulted skyward, others control the tension and thereby the power. This human projectile almost ends up in the Albert Hall dome with only a lighting rig barring the way. Not for the faint hearted but this bunch are almost fearless led by a posse of colourfully attired acrobats – Phillipe Guillotel’s costumes are gorgeous – who perform complex movements with impeccable timing. High flying, which should be renamed sky dancing, it is marvellous stuff. There is also upside down cycling, a climbing act with chairs which almost defies gravity, a diminutive women who appears to live inside the voluminous belly of a rotund robotic man and so it goes on.
Giving the energetic performers a chance to rest there is a lovely alternative clown routine. He establishes a nice rapport with the audience while making very realistic cat sounds. He slightly outstays his welcome but the sardonic wit is in tune with the quirky nature of Michel Laprise’s charming and zestful production, set off by Stephane Roy’s typically fantastical designs for which Cirque have become known – no wonder they are a permanent feature in Las Vegas. Though most voyeurs will be bowled over by the spectacle and spectacular, the dance element of the show – inspirational work by Yaman Okur and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui – and the live musicians, are delightful. A production of beauty and wonder, they’re here until March so give yourself a treat and go.
Meanwhile five actors go in search of twenty characters. They find them, divvy them up and lo and behold you have the Blackeyed Theatre production of Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear (Yvonne Arnaud), adapted for the stage by Nick Lane from the Arthur Conan Doyle original (his fourth and final Holmes novel). A mysterious coded message draws Holmes and faithful Watson into a tale that take them from Baker Street to Pennsylvania and back.
He soon finds out that this is the nefarious work of the sinister Professor Moriarty. Cue dramatic music…
Lane’s production, with an excellent transformative set from Victoria Spearing, is an enjoyable romp peppered with melodrama and typical Conan Doyle wit which is sometimes as camp as a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The talented cast take on their multitasking of playing all the roles with pep and panache but occasionally they leave us behind as they flit from one to the other. That said it bubbled along nicely and there was an amusing rapport between Luke Barton’s Holmes and Jasper Derrington’s Watson while Alice Osmanski was terrific in portraying a medley of women. It was also lovely to see the Arnaud packed full of young people at a time when they are going through difficult times and in the process of applying for a major capital grant to make the venue more accessible and sustainable. God speed to them.

Kurios – www.royalalberthall.com
Sherlock Holmes’ (on tour) – www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk

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