Pros: The set. The sound design. The projection. The lighting.
Cons: Far too many people in the audience filming the show on their phones.
A silvery particle spins and tumbles from above, setting in train an evolutionary journey from primordial soup to space exploration. Well that’s the idea, anyway. More prosaically, Totem is a high-spec review show, in which circus acts, loosely themed around ideas of man’s evolution and environment, are interspersed with quirky comic vignettes.
The circus acts are suitably astonishing. Lovers on rollerskates spin at incredible speed on a tiny rink. A reptilian contortionist does excruciating bendy things. A team of unicyclists kick cups with perfect precision from foot to head. Hoops are flicked and spun to become wings, spheres, a protective shell.
Yet, while the circus acts consistently deliver shock and awe, only some of them have the extra ingredient to make them really satisfying: emotion, drama, mystery, humour. A trapeze-based courtship starts off unpromisingly, with an abduction. But the hostage fights back, and there follows a dramatic power struggle-cum-flirtation, which finally settles into a romantic peace. The incredible strength and skill of the two performers are showcased within an engaging and often humorous narrative, and the lines that they create are as elegant as they are awe-inspiring. A couple of neon-clad astronauts take flight from Russian bars – a cross between a trampoline and a beam – held up by their fellow spacemen. It is terrifying and beautiful, and there’s a wonderful contrast between the delicate airborne power of the flyers and the earthy bulk strength of the carriers. But perhaps the most dramatic performance of the evening comes from that street theatre favourite, the diabolo, with a flamenco accompaniment. Our diabolo master is a sort of universal ringmaster with a personal spotlight in his tophat and a red parting in his shiny black hair. He has proper charisma, and when he summons his diabolo it falls straight from the sky, onto its string. It’s a short but intense performance that builds and builds and builds in technical skill and amazingness. Whilst it doesn’t require the strength, or come with the risk, of most of the other acts, this one really impresses with its drama.
The other star of the show is the design. It’s gorgeous! The set is deceptively simple, just a raised platform sloping downwards from the back wall onto a circular stage. But that slope works hard. It transforms from beach to bubbling cauldron, from pond to speed boat, thanks to the incredible projection and sound design. When silvery swimmers glide across the projected pond and then emerge as real humans from under the platform, it’s rather magical. The sound of waves swooshing up and down the sand is quite transporting. And the costumes! There’s the glittery gimp-suited particle of the opening scene, there are luminescent newts, shaggy legwarmered cavemen, funky Amerindians and a brightly-warted lizard, to note just a few of the visual delights.
A Cirque du Soleil show is unlike anything else we review at Everything Theatre. It has more in common with a Taylor Swift world tour than it does with the fringe productions that we normally review, or with the West End shows that we occasionally review. It is ambitious, glossy and unashamedly corporate. But none of that detracts from the enormous skill, inventiveness, care and dedication that go into making a show this slick and accomplished.
Writer: Robert Lepage
Director: Robert Lepage
Co-creators: Gilles Ste-Crois, Neilson Vignola
Box Office: 020 7589 8212
Booking Link: https://tickets.royalalberthall.com/production/61229
Booking Until: 26 February 2019