Review: CIRQUE: THE GREATEST SHOW, Leicester Curve

Come for the big top acts, sit through the songs but stay for Christian Lee.

By: Jun. 11, 2024
Review: CIRQUE: THE GREATEST SHOW, Leicester Curve
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Review: CIRQUE: THE GREATEST SHOW, Leicester Curve With its live singers, superb clowning and disappointing vaudeville acts, The Entertainers’ Cirque: The Greatest Show is bringing its dazzling show around the country.

The UK is not short on touring big top companies. That’s not a huge surprise given that what we know as modern circus was invented here back in 1768 by Philip Astley, a former sergeant major turned trick rider. Those seeing the likes of Cal McCrystal’s horse-powered Gifford’s Circus or Cirque Berserk with their Globe of Death may appreciate the modern twists on the formula that Cirque provides.

Review: CIRQUE: THE GREATEST SHOW, Leicester Curve
Photo credit: The Entertainers

The most obvious element of Cirque - like much else in The Entertainers’ stable of shows - is its powerful renditions of stadium-sized belters that rock the audience back into their seats. Although the show’s marketing material lays claim to “musical theatre showstoppers“, the songs here are drawn more from famous films and the sound of the Eighties rather than the works of Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber

An entire medley is dedicated to the oeuvre of Sir Elton John, Queen gets a nod and tracks are plucked from the James Bond films, Moulin Rouge and The Greatest Showman. High-energy dance routines from a troupe led by Dione Hassell accompany the sextet of vocalists (Wesley Bromley, Nikita Coulon, Max Fox, Jamie Long, Tori Murray and Robbie Waugh) as they take turns front and centre to pound out songs at a volume Spinal Tap would have happily nodded along to.

Review: CIRQUE: THE GREATEST SHOW, Leicester Curve
Photo credit: Cirque

There really is nothing like a top notch circus show and, sadly, this really is nothing like a top notch circus show. When compared to the all-singing, all-dancing musical numbers powered by megawatt sound and light effects, the big top acts may look pretty but they are simply not on a par. The two-hour running time doesn’t lack for acrobats but the emphasis seems to be more on quantity over quality. 

The kind of high-speed high-risk routine popularised by the Skating Willers - a couple that, even into their mid-50s and even after they divorced, regularly put their lives in each other’s hands every time they went on stage - is tamely performed by the much younger Duo Eclipse. The gimmicky LED apparatus like an illuminated cyr wheel all have a distinct waft of lunchtime cruise ship entertainment.  Hassell shows some aerial prowess but (like Thomas Barrandon’s basic juggling routine) the overall feeling is of a performance that is there to justify the mistnomer of a show title rather than raise pulses, at least in the pews.

There’s a temptation to say we as an audience (and critics) have been spoiled by the world-class artists that can be seen on the likes of Britain’s Got Talent. That thought can be pushed aside, though, by the fact that there are many live productions currently in the UK and coming up at the Edinburgh Fringe (including the big top shows mentioned above as well as Sophie’s Surprise 29th) which have demonstrably higher levels of skill and creativity and are in the same ticket price bracket. 

Review: CIRQUE: THE GREATEST SHOW, Leicester Curve
Photo credit: The Entertainers

Circus clowns are usually the most depressingly unnecessary addition to big top extravaganzas, having minimal appeal to anyone who has been toilet-trained. Christian Lee brilliantly flips that script with a wordless performance that speaks to all ages and evokes the wonder of Victorian music halls, albeit with the aid of a moving platform and massive projections. His short skits see him deploy mime and magic with an emotional impact not evident elsewhere in Cirque. The corporate sheen of the whole endeavour finds its heart in Lee’s epic clowning, his solo routines somehow filling the impossibly large stage with anticipation and atmosphere. With a child-like and wide-eyed manner more reminiscent of Kiki Lovechild’s charming antics than the aggressive approach of Doctor Brown, it is streets ahead of anything served up by Cirque du Soleil

More information on Cirque shows can be found here.

Photo credit: The Entertainers
 




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