Review - OVO (Cirque du Soleil) at the Royal Albert Hall
Is time running out, finally, for the global circus franchise Cirque du Soleil, whose touring and bespoke Las Vegas spectacles have created their own extremely profitable brand of family entertainment? Several attempts to create permanent home in New York have floundered, with the last attempt Paramour (which played at Broadway's Lyric Theatre) shutting last April after a run of just a year.
Their annual London residency at the Royal Albert Hall - a venue that rises majestically to provide its own sense of occasion every time - is the perfect indoor Big Top. But this year's import, of an eight-year-old touring show called OVO in its London debut, also shows the limitations of the formula, however inventively its creators try to spin it in new directions.
If you've never seen Cirque du Soleil before, you may well be impressed by the glossy packaging and superb acrobatic and athletic skills on display. But for those, like me, who have seen them frequently, that packaging has become over-familiar.
It all feels rather heartless - instead of Cirque du Soleil, they could be re-dubbed Cirque du Soul-less. It's all so slick, there's little sense of jeopardy - even when, as in one of the great set-pieces, trapeze artists fly high over the stage, unaided by wires or supports of any kind, as they are thrown from one side of it to the other. It's probably the closest to flying human beings will ever achieve. The precision is amazing.
Again, a trampoline and acrobatic tumbling act that has its performers flinging themselves up against a wall and back down again is astonishing.
But the human beings and humanity have got lost along the way. That's partly deliberate in a show which is inspired by an insect eco-system - the trampoline acrobats are described as 'crazy crickets', the jugglers who juggle giant slices of kiwi fruit, corn cobs and each other with their feet are called 'amazing ants'.
A lot of the show feels padded - not least the insufferable 'clown' act. As much as I'm always gobsmacked by the talent on offer, the packaging nowadays feels so joyless and pointless. I kept longing for the grit, wit, glamour and sheer sex appeal of La Soiree (currently in residence across town at the Aldwych Theatre in the West End). There you'll find the authentic smell of danger and subversiveness that Cirque du Soleil seem to miss.
OVO - Cirque du Soleil Tickets are available now