Ed Gosling

Ed entered the world of circus and cabaret by accident at the age of 19 and made it his home. After performing across the UK and Europe for several years he had a brief stint as a fiction editor before setting up Chivaree Circus which he now runs and performs with. He lives in a warehouse in east London filled floor to ceiling with performers and circus toys: this makes him very happy.

Circus Review: Bianco Is Pure Poetry And Aesthetic Wonder

Read more

NoFit State Circus come to London with their acclaimed show Bianco for the final run of this immense performance piece.

Modern circus was invented in London and almost immediately it spread and evolved around the world quickly moving through Europe and reaching as far as China and Mexico in barely a few decades.

One explanation as to why it moved so rapidly is that, being essentially a non-verbal art form, companies could cross borders and amaze audiences in different countries in a way that theatre was largely unable to. NoFit State Circus – who unquestionably occupy the space of the UK’s leading circus company – having toured the world, now touch down in London to show how far we have come since then in a show that is both very contemporary and yet in subtle ways quite traditional.

Bianco is pure poetry and aesthetic wonder.

The Southbank Centre hasn’t enjoyed circus of this quality since Limbo and of the three big shows in town over Christmas this is by far the most exciting in terms of the circus. Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna misses just about every mark and, while La Soiree is cheeky, fun and full of variety, Bianco is pure poetry and aesthetic wonder.

There is no definite narrative, more a sense of competing voices, tableaus, and personalities all brought together through a shared visual identity. Performers soar above you and around you. The energy of the piece progresses through the intermingling of music, performance and visual symbols. There is a repeating theme of different personalities trapped within the performers.

Language is used in monologues, but in various languages – suggesting that the passion of the words and intonation is far more important than the coherent meaning of them. The language of Bianco is movement and it transcends speech. This is a piece to get lost in and to be amazed by.

The technicalities as beautiful as the theatrics. The rigging is a work of art, which is brought to the fore-front rather than being hidden away. The counter-balancers are as much a part of the show as the performers.

A scen from Bianco by NoFit State Circus @ Big Top, Southbank Centre. Directed by Firenza Guidi. (Opening 23-11-16) ©Tristram Kenton 11/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com
Bianco, Southbank Centre

This is an evolved show from the version seen almost four years ago at The Roundhouse and some of the performances feel very much like a continuation of Bianco’s earlier form, for example starting with Lyndall Merry on the swinging trapeze, or Augusts Dakteris wonderful straps finale routine.

Other aspects have also changed. Francois Bouvier on the tightrope is incredible – the most exciting performance on this apparatus I’ve ever seen. He skips, dances, twists and turns across two wires that cross each other. It really is wonderful and replaces an earlier tightrope performance that featured a girl in a red dress – an anomaly in a show where costume is largely made up of white and black – walking the rope in high heels, a cliché that has been vastly overused in productions over the last few years like Cirkopolis’s cyr wheel routine.

This is a show that proves that circus is an art form that can capture the essence of what it is to be human and alive.

This is a show that proves that circus is an art form that can capture the essence of what it is to be human and alive. After next January, NoFit State Circus plan on a year of making new work and Bianco will stop touring so this is the last chance to see this fantastic production. For those who missed out on Bianco at the Roundhouse back in 2013 – buy your tickets now, quickly, before you waste your money on overpriced mulled wine.

This Is Cabaret rating: ★★★★★

Appearing as part of the Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival, Bianco continues until 22 January 2017. Tickets are £30-£39.50. Please see the official website for availability and show details.

All images: Tristram Kenton


Get Footloose In Reuben Feels’ Immersive Dancing And Dating Experience

Reuben Feel's The Last DanceRead more

Since 2011, Reuben Feels have been operating under the public radar by helping out international brands such as Red Bull and Xbox in creating immersive experiences. Emerging from the shadows,The Last Dance is their first solo production. It is a weird mish-mash drawing on Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2015 film The Lobster which combines an atmosphere and dress code that feels more like 80’s cult-flick Footloose.

This is an immersive play about finding love and sticking to the rules to create a new society revolving around a central tenet: to be human, we must dance and enjoy life in all its messy complexity. The show finds its comedy in making people feel a little uncomfortable as well as playing on the awkward nature of intimacy amongst strangers. There are some good moments and a lightness of touch that makes it feel quite fun. The aesthetic is old-fashioned so there is something a bit scout camp (in a good way) about the proceedings. They feel innocent and infantilising, like going back to school.

Having said that, The Last Dance lacks a coherence that prevents it from being more than just merely enjoyable. The script feels a tad loose in places, and there are some bits and pieces that don’t really get dealt with. For example, we’re made to fill out a card with our relationship status and some personal information at the start of the night, but this is then no longer referenced, making it feel a bit pointless and like a potential lost opportunity for further interaction. Here is the main problem: we’re told to obey the rules, but it doesn’t really feel like their will be any consequences if we don’t, which mutes the overall impact.

This is a bold production from a company that clearly has some ideas and wants to take risks. And, ultimately, it’s about having a good time and a bit of a knees-up and creating a weird space for this to happen. The Friday and Saturday shows see continue on with a late party which will add to The Last Dance’s appeal. It will definitely be interesting to see what Reuben Feels dream up for future productions. In the meantime there are still two more weeks if you fancy taking a chance and looking for someone to settle down with and get hitched with.

The Last Dance continues at Hoxton Hall until 26 November. More information can be found on the official website.

Review: Finger In The Pie’s Wunderfinger, London Wonderground

Baby Lame (l) and Lilly Snatchragon (r) at Finger In The Pie's Wunderfinger. Image: John WilsonRead more

 

Outrageous, aggressive, gaudy, crass, confrontational, rude – these are all reasons Finger in the Pie’s Wunderfinger is such a joy to watch. Is this show the best worst taste cabaret to hit the London Wonderground’s Spiegeltent this summer? Probably. It’s why you should go and see it on the 16 August when it comes back for a second and final outing. Just don’t bring your kids.

The duo of the bearded “drag terrorist” (a description as apt as any other) Baby Lame and her accomplice Lilly Snatchdragon host the show while trading insults and dick pics and competing over the affections of the audience. Their banter is funny and fast and relies heavily on being as mean as possible to each other.

Kiki Lovechild at Finger In The Pie's Wunderfinger. Image: John Wilson
Kiki Lovechild at Finger In The Pie’s Wunderfinger. Image: John Wilson

Baby shows real talent is in her ability to range from a high pitched sugary tone to a full on guttural growl, both while speaking and singing. It is the energy and sense of the unexpected that this creates that propels the show forward. Lilly’s self-aware, self-sexualisation while playing with Asian stereotypes provides a good counterbalance – and the two are great together.

The hosts are joined by clowns and circus and sideshow artistes. Luminescent pair The Fire Factory play Rabbies and Scabbies, two women in giant dolphin and rabbit masks who provide backing dancing and comic support as well as a duo body burning routine. There is a lot of potential for the transfers and tricks when passing the flame from one to another and fulfil that potential well.

Fire Factory at Finger In The Pie's Wunderfinger. Image: John Wilson
Fire Factory at Finger In The Pie’s Wunderfinger. Image: John Wilson

Clowns Pi The Mime and Kiki Lovechild provide a strange non-verbal innocence at well-timed moments that help give the show more depth and stop it existing purely on one level. The latter is currently up at the Edinburgh Fringe with his show Sheets and for Wunderfinger he displayed a virtuoso masterclass in physical comedy, one element of which sees him chasing a small paper butterfly around the Spiegeltent. There is a lot of clown or physical theatre acts in cabaret these days that are not completely thought through this pair’s antics rise far above the usual fare.

Wunderfinger’s Lady Fingerbang (aerialist Josie-Beth Davies) provides an accomplished pair of acts. Her hoop routine shows her pulling some very flexible positions with great lines. The routine relies more on her spinning while holding shapes, than dynamic movements; her later silks act is fine but perhaps fails to drop hard enough and feels like it lacks some more advanced technical skills.

Josie-Beth Davies at Finger In The Pie's Wunderfinger. Image: John Wilson
Josie-Beth Davies at Finger In The Pie’s Wunderfinger. Image: John Wilson

Overall the show is an incredibly fun mixture of personality, attitude and skills. If you are looking for a tastefully offensive cabaret, full of suave and sophisticated types drinking cocktails while watching a few show tunes, this is definitely a night for you.

This Is Cabaret rating ★★★★

Finger In The Pie’s Wunderfinger returns on 16 August 2016. More information can be found on the London Wonderground website.

Review: Barbu, London Wonderground

Cirque Alfonse's Barbu at London Wonderground, 2016Read more

Barbu is, at heart, a high energy, chaotic mixture of acrobatics, object manipulation and beards. Especially beards. Based around a great cast of six multi-skilled performers, a clown character and four musicians, it has a range which is thoroughly explored throughout the seventy-five minutes or so of a production that is unashamedly fun and a reminder of what a pure joy circus can be at it’s best.

Sitting in the front row at the Spiegeltent, I could taste the beer that flies from a keg, feel the sweat hit me, and feel the aerialist come within touching distance as she swings past. It is really a great experience. There are some large scale productions that need the grandeur of a bigger spaces – but it is wonderful to be this close to the action is such a lovely venue for a show that really fits here.

Cirque Alfonse came to London last year with their show Timber which was cuter and more family friendly. This show is much better, though lacks some of the coherence of it’s predecessor. The costumes are a bit all over the place, sort of east London hipster, meets traditional circus, meets nonsense. Sometimes this works well, at others there seems to be lack of clear or consistent thinking.

This lack of finishing off encroaches into other parts of the show. There is a mentalist who brings in some elements of comic release – but seems a bizarre character that isn’t fully formed. I’m really not sure why he is strung up and beaten and attacked with custard pies towards the end. I didn’t feel like he had particularly deserved it.

Thematically, the most interesting part of the show is the exploration of masculinity. “Barbu” means “bearded” in French (the company are Quebecois) and by embracing this so traditionally manly look while at the same time satirising it and opening it up for ridicule, the company tap into a wide range of debates on gender that are very present. The childlike “girly” ribbon twirling to counter the big manly acrobatics at one point is a great juxtaposition. The feminine eye makeup the cast wear in the production photos is another example of refusing to recognise traditional gender norms.

A point in the show touches on homo-eroticism quite casually which raises a pertinent question: what makes a manly man manly? That further begs the question, what role do the two female performers take? While masculinity is clearly being questioned here, the beardless find themselves in much more familiar gender territory: an aerial hoop performance is done in stockings and suspenders and a nearly naked girl is put in a box that is cut in half by the magician. There is one moment where we see a video clip of a girl shaving her face, but it’s a small detail. Perhaps it would have made more sense to either have no women in this show – or to decide how they would fit into the meta-issues being explored.

If the entire production feels a little incoherent, at times that is also one of it’s strengths. It really could go anywhere. The music all played live veers from something epic and grand, to a sort of hybrid disco that sounds like it could have been the soundtrack to an 80s video game. There are some great set pieces – and the real strength comes from the four male performers who juggle cups and clubs together, make giant acrobatic shapes and show off on teeter-board. Their energy is infectious and they manage to be both highly competent and show-manlike, while equally ridiculous and charming. One act where a performer uses a cyr wheel while wearing a giant squidgy disco ball around their waist is a perfect example of this.

Ultimately this is a high flying spectacular show that leaves you feeling uplifted. It may be daft, but it’s skilful enough to make you leave aside any cynicism. It may not have thought through all the answers, but there is enough engaging imagery and ideas to give Barbu a unique sense of character. It will also help you to escape life’s realities for a brief while and, sometimes, that is the very best thing a show can do.

This Is Cabaret rating ★★★★

Barbu continues at London Wonderground until 25 September. Ticket prices start at £31 and include a programme worth £10 with each ticket. More information can be found on the London Wonderground website.

Review: These Books Are Made For Walking

Read more

These Books Are Made for Walking is a new production chiefly devised by multi-skilled circus artist Alice Allart, clown performer Fabrice Dominici and musician Patrice Colet. Suitable for children and adults, the story unfolds with a lonely librarian (Dominici) who discovers a wondrous creature (Allart) coming out of the books one night to liven up his otherwise dreary world; she is a fairy, a samurai, a heroine, and all his meticulous work is shattered as books rain down from a precarious setup of interconnected ladders.

The plot is sort of Night at the Museum with elements of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. While the MPDG association can often be negative – a two dimensional whimsical female who exists solely to teach the man how to rediscover the child within – here Allart’s character seems more fleshed out, existing for herself. While the stage is otherworldly, the piece feels somehow instantly recognisable.

If you are into clowning then this is a show that had the audience laughing along; if you are more into acrobatic circus, it is a little thin on technical tricks, with what amounts to a very big buildup for essentially a short section of slack rope. It is a good payoff though, as slack rope is rarely seen in comparison to many other disciplines and is creatively performed here between two ladders held by Dominici and a member of the audience.

I would have liked to see some more developed circus activity. Allart starts to manipulate several books, which feels promising, using movements akin to hat juggling. But it ends up as quite a short section and never really gets going. Elsewhere, high above the audience she moves into a “crocodile” handstand position, which appears to signal the start of some acrobatics, but again this doesn’t go any further. These false starts whet the appetite without feeling satisfying, and give way to the music and theatrics leaving me wanting more.

The major strengths of this piece are the poetic elements, the imagery of the books and their creative use in costumes, and the sense of fantasy that is conjured up from relatively simple set and props to create a whole much bigger than its parts. The music, performed live by Colet, meanders along and creates a loose structure that is reactive to the action rather than informing it. Involving the audience intermittently feels like a very natural way to draw in the spectators. Overall this show feels like a childhood dream, whose innocence is refreshing – and there is apparently a “more relaxed” version for children with autism, which I imagine would work well.

The production feels unified as a whole and I think a family audience would really enjoy it’s premise and the gentle way much of the action unfolds. Having two of the performers atop the ladders for the majority of the performance creates a wondrous space, and I’m sure many children dream of being able to break the rules so completely, ignoring authority and throwing books around to disrupt the ordered world of adults. I know as a child it was what I fantasised about during endless turgid assemblies.

These Books Are Made For Walking. By Bikes & Rabbits. Touring 19 Mar – 2 Apr. http://www.bikesandrabbits.com

Review: Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois’ He Who Falls

Read more

Six performers struggle to hold on to a platform that spins, shakes and tilts them in experimental dance theatre He Who Falls at the Barbican as part of the London International Mime Festival

The marketing for the show hints at the action unfolding through elements of acrobatics and in interviews director Yoann Bourgeois talks about sticking to “an essential principle of the circus”. The trailer and poster both show performers using their bodies and the centrifugal forces to stay upright. In truth though, this is much more a piece of contemporary dance and the action of the show is incredibly stripped down and the small section in the trailer might be the only instance of this really occurring.

It seems like if you want to create this kind of work, there are certain elements that become necessary, not least lack of obvious or discernible costumes, stark lighting, lack of set or props, doing less and staring into the void at intervals. This show has a huge spinning platform, but by employing all of the above elements it feels like much of the potential of this unique piece of apparatus is lost. It feels like he has missed a trick getting this amazing machine and then having performers shuffle about on it seeing through each other rather than really exploring the full capacity of what it could do. He talks about “tentative approaches to the point of suspension”, but after an hour I really wished the performers were a little more decisive in their approach.

There are some vivid tableaux and visual ideas. Essentially a metaphor for society, the performers on the platform do their best to stay upright confronting forces much bigger than themselves. This is a worthy idea to explore; trying to live with the presence of globalisation and the ever-increasing complexity of a world that seems to get faster and faster is the very essence of modern life. Like Circa’s The Return which played here prior to this show, associations with the ongoing refugee crisis also feel apparent.

Being “overwhelmed” is at the heart of this piece and the struggle the performers face is clear. The prop often evokes elements of childhood, of swings and roundabouts and monkey bars. It is watched and controlled by some kind of technician at the back of the stage – are they the victim of Gods playing with their mortality? are they they victims of other humans? the gods of global capitalism perhaps? Dictators? Who knows. It’s pretty open to interpretation. But the picture it paints is quite bleak. By working together they do manage to overcome some of the challenges they face, but only for a short while before it too overwhelms them.

He Who Falls is almost a really interesting show, but it somehow fails to feel fully realised; it clearly has depth, but fails to touch on an emotional level. It has good elements, but feels like there is some wasted opportunity. I can imagine that it will appeal to more to those expecting contemporary dance, rather than anything more high flying, so it may be worth seeing for yourself and trying to make sense of it.

Four years into this work Bourgeois says he feels “it is taking shape” – perhaps if it ever reaches its final state it will have developed into a more captivating experience. As it stands, for all of the themes of being “overwhelmed” the performers experience – I felt quite the opposite as a member of the audience.

He Who Falls appeared as part of London International Mime Festival.

Image: Foteini Christofilopoulou

Review: Wild Worlds: V, Vaults Festival 2016

Read more

Wild Worlds: V is a selection of tableaux, images and disjointed visual references. It is hyper-real, referential and takes it’s three and a half actors (Gabby Sellen appears as a disembodied mouth and head only) beyond human representations to become absurd parodies of themselves. It is playing Wednesday to Sunday each night for the next two weeks as part of the fantastic arts and theatre weirdness that is the Vaults Festival 2016 underneath Waterloo station.

This is the third Wild Worlds and while each show is entirely different, they pick up on some of the same themes and are all part of the Artful Badger universe. Ideas about breaking free of day-to-day life, activities and other people’s expectations underpin much of their work. This show, with an emphasis on that love – “an overpowering, sometimes underwhelming and never easy four letter word”  – is really quite a dark exploration.

Live dance theatre performance at The Vaults

 

Love can be just as much a prison for some as it can bring joy to others. A couple try to hold each other together only to implode. Another performer asks us why “we are so important”, why do we think so highly of ourselves, how arrogant to think some God might care about our meaningless lives. With samples of literature from Dante realised in a “Becketesque” fashion these vignettes together create a tapestry of ideas, impressions and associations, like a surreal hermeneutic circle.

This is not a stationary piece, as the show takes the audience through different parts of the cavern. To delineate the space, great use is made of lighting to change the feel of the environment from a large stark open void, to a dark intimate place made up of a single torch. The strongest part of this production is the visual ideas at the centre of each section. With very simple effects director Zoë Cobb has created unique and powerful flashes of how our lives can be, told through dance, movements and physical theatre.

Live dance theatre performance at The Vaults

Due to funding issues this show is much more stripped down than last years “spirit of the festival” award winning Wild Worlds: Dark Side which had a bigger cast, projections and some notable aerial work with harnesses and a large loose net. This brings to mind the age old adage that less is more: this show feels better realised, a bit more focussed and cohesive and is a good example of where restrictions have actually helped the artistic process.

The last words must go to the Vaults Festival itself. If you have never been then do go see this show or something else that takes your fancy. There is a great selection of comedy, fringe theatre, dance, artwork, experimentation and a great atmosphere. With so many shows taking place simultaneously it’s great to see something and then chat to people in the bar and hear about what else was on during the evening. Despite the incredibly diverse programming and the tremendous support the festival gives to companies who come through the doors, they receive no arts funding for it. A petition is planned to try and help them get more recognition, for now give your support by heading down to take a look at what’s on offer.

Wild Worlds: V continues until 13 February at The Vaults. Tickets are £16. More information

All images: Aaron Davies

Review: Circa’s The Return, London International Mime Festival

Read more

With six musicians performing classic opera fused with electronic deconstructions, and six acrobats displaying the best of what contemporary circus can be, The Return is an audio visual delight from start to finish and a triumph for Australian company Circa. There is just so much to like about this production. It is also performed here tonight in a perfect venue for it: the theatre at the Barbican is big enough for the music and the movements onstage to feel grand, but still intimate for the solo performances. There are some other great shows still to come as part of the London International Mime Festival, but this is likely to be one of my highlights.

The company began in 2004 and has since honed the skill at combining stripped down circus with classical music performed live. The Return does not feel like a reworking of old ground, but rather the realisation of years of refining these elements. Though the performance is essentially abstract and without any kind of clear narrative, themes of loss, breaking down, memory, history, hope, displacement, conflict, drowning are at the fore – ideas which are currently permeating our political discourse with the ongoing refugee crisis.

While the show is very much about group work, and the interplay between the circus performers and the music, the aerial strap work by Bridie Hooper deserves special note for it’s experimentation and originality. The routine is a wonderful moment, all disjointed harsh movements and sudden drops. Elsewhere she is used by performers as a puppet, her extreme doll-like flexibility making her appear possessed. Duncan West also shines as he tumbles, managing to get incredible height and hold positions to the point where it looks like he must hit the ground terribly. Though these two performers stood out to me, the entire cast are fantastic and worthy of congratulations, as is the choreography and realisation by Yaron Lifschitz.

The minimal stage and lighting setup puts the attention firmly on the performers. A warm yellow light transforms the stage from the colder white. The music, as much a part of the performance as the acrobats, is chiefly Monteverdi’s work. At times this is performed as originally composed, at others it breaks down into white noise, electronic sounds and bassy vibrations. This contrast allows a great emotional landscape for the movements onstage (though it perhaps fails to drop hard enough at a few points). Like the circus artists, all of the musicians work well together and there isn’t a flat note throughout.

The Return elevates contemporary circus beyond entertainment and presents a fully formed piece of artwork. It manages to tread the fine line between exploration of movement and beauty, while not letting go of what fundamentally makes good circus: the demonstration of that which seems impossible, the risk of falling, the potential for injury while displaying the limits of what a human is capable of. Circa, it seems, are searching for the sublime. This piece is still evolving and finding its ultimate realisation; already much of the promo is out of date – a three performer trapeze piece that looked exciting has been removed for example – so, like so many other touring circus shows, this should still be seen as a work of constantly evolving progress. Having said that, it currently feels fully cohesive and a real pleasure to experience.

Circa appears at The Barbican until 31 January. More information.

Review: ANECKXANDER at London International Mime Festival

Read more

I’m sure the concept of a naked man (save for a pair of large boots, a neck ruffle and boxing gloves) throwing himself onto the floor repeatedly in a silent room with stark lighting might seem stereotypical of performance art to many people’s mind. Happily, Aneckxander manages to feel warm, human and funny though it has all of the above – and, while it probably wouldn’t be suitable for children, it might well convert many who would be put off by the first description.

The London International Mime Festival offers a broad umbrella, mixing various schools of mime, physical theatre, clowning, circus, dance and even puppetry into its month long programme. This is its strength, acknowledging that mime can be lots of things, frequently crossing into different genres, and the festival is all the more interesting and relevant because of this.

For fans of the abstract, Aneckxander is an exploration of what the body is, how it moves and, ultimately, what it is to be human. It is absurd. At times bleak, surreal and dark, at others silly – slapstick even – and good humoured. Performer Alexander Vantournhout shows a childlike desire to test the body and discover it’s limitations for better or worse. The different shapes that the body can make are apparently infinite, from Gollum-like creatures to statuesque displays of strength, balance and control.

The lack of set (and, for the most part, any props), means this feels like a window into someone’s head. The few items of clothing are meant to exaggerate the limbs and to emphasise the nakedness of Vantournhout (the solo performer). Once you get acclimatised to the weirdness of watching a naked figure cartwheel around in a theatre space, it feels freeing. The choreography is very playful, which nods to his background in contact improvisation, and the acrobatic elements have strange rhythms and flows not normally seen in circus. There is some of the refusal to accept the normal rules of gravity you might see in a Streb performance, but the approach is much more intimate.

This is definitely experimental theatre, for an audience willing to take a risk, but I was engaged throughout. There are genuine laughs, though spoilers would remove their effect so I’ll refrain from writing about them here. During the show there’s a sense that anything could happen – at one point the lights catch fire, and I find myself weighing up whether this is planned or if I should be evacuating the theatre. Devices like this mean that even with a very minimal setup you are kept constantly on your guard, unable to look away.

I accept that this show might not be to everyone’s taste. If you get your kicks from easy, packaged up experiences then this probably is going to be too weird for you. But it is wonderful to know that, for people who want to see new things and be challenged by what they watch, there are places like Jacksons Lane and the London International Mime Festival that promote this kind of performance.

The Mime Festival continues till 6th February, in Jacksons Lane and seven other venues around London, with some great companies involved. Why not check some out yourself?

http://www.mimelondon.com

Review: Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna

Read more

Amaluna is a relatively recent output from Cirque du Soleil; it premiered in 2012 and has been touring since. Now, at the start of 2016, it touches down for a few months at the Royal Albert Hall, the traditional time and place for the company’s UK visits. Having seen many of their shows here, I can say it’s always a very pleasant evening, the level of the performers is phenomenal and the production values high. Ultimately it’s great fun, if a bit silly.

“Ama” (meaning mother in many languages) and “luna” (meaning moon) is a strange island inhabited by women. Prospera has a daughter, Miranda, who is growing up. Along comes a shipwrecked boat with the handsome Romeo. They fall in love and get married, while learning some valuable lessons about relationships from various female gods: the Balance God teaches trust, the Peacock God, purity and so forth. It’s a romantic comedy, but without the usual narrative arc where something goes wrong in the middle. There are also two clowns whose relationship is of a more slapstick and bawdy kind give some well needed comic relief.

The simplicity of this format will work well for children and families, who are ultimately the target audience but be warned: if you have any critique of gender norms, please leave them at the door. This is a celebration of traditional femininity and womanhood that has been wrapped up in faux mythology and inexplicable literary references, then given the usual unproblematic varnish Cirque du Soleil do so well. If you find the world complicated, confusing and filled with questions then this could be a great holiday from that – if you want a little more depth from a show then perhaps this isn’t the show for you.

There are some very strong moments. The solo handbalancing/contortion/water bowl act from the character of Miranda shows exceptional strength, control, flexibility and the right amount of drama with a few scary looking dives. Anyone who enjoys watching a beautiful nymph-like woman in a bikini splashing around in water will enjoy this. Later Romeo strips off his shirt to engage in a very accomplished Chinese pole act that will similarly excite those who like the idea of an attractive half naked man showing off feats of strength. Both performers excel in these solo spots where their abilities are given a chance to shine. Elsewhere, the group work of the Amazonians (female gymnasts) on a custom set of uneven bars is filled with energy, skill and excitement, while the Sailors’ teeterboard act is of a similar high standard, with big flips and difficult manoeuvres.

Those who know their circus may be disappointed by the aerial hoop act from the Moon God, which relies more on swinging around with counterbalance than technical physicality. The straps are nice, but having three synchronised performers with an additional solo performer means there is too much going on at once for me. Overall though, the acts work well, with the Icarian games a nice way to finish it all off. The rare foot juggling act is performed with incredible skill, though it follows a very traditional format.

Production values are of the high level this company have been putting out for years now, though the costumes are a bit all over the place – the programme tells us they have drawn inspiration from a diverse range of sources but, in truth, it all feels mashed together and incoherent. The main lizard has an excellent tail, the peacocks are pretty and many of the headpieces are very nice. But the Balance God has only a gold bikini and sash and a group of lizards wear something that looks like they are street villains from an 80s Batman film, with a soundtrack to go with it. The music is grand and epic throughout, but so polished it feels autotuned.

This is the crux of Cirque du Soleil – it’s all so safe. The lack of nuance means all we have are archetypes and the simplest of emotions. It’s like eating a bag of sugary sweets while watching a Hollywood blockbuster full of special effects at the IMAX. It’s exciting and entertaining, but superficial. If you have never seen Cirque du Soleil at the Albert Hall, it is definitely worth going to – especially if you have children – but there is sure to be more invigorating circus elsewhere over the next few months as we look forward with London International Mime Festival and CircusFest.