The show's run at the Royal Albert Hall has now ended
There was a sense of anticipation among the gathering audience, greater than for any theatrical performance I’ve seen in years. The Cirque du Soleil brings before it a reputation that adds an almost mystical element to its performances. In fact, something more than a performance – an event. Could the French-Canadian company maintain this? Would tonight be special?
The pre-show buzz certainly had an effect – a loud female American voice called out “I got popcorn! I got chocolate! I got water!” Was she part of the show? No, just a jolly young American selling snacks, but she was somehow part of the event.
The venue helps. KOOZA has entertained four million people across North America and Japan over the past five years, but seldom in such a spectacular setting. The Royal Albert Hall is the first destination on KOOZA’s European tour, a theater you must visit while you’re in Britain. Its high-Victorian design and cylindrical build are unique and somehow, despite its 5,000-plus capacity it feels intimate, as if (wherever your seat) the acts are performing just for you.
Intermingled with the crowd finding their seats come a balloon manipulator, an ‘audience member’ who has her handbag stolen, an ‘American tourist’ complete with Hawaiian shirt and camera, all causing little bits of chaos before the house lights go down. A ballerina brings a little girl onto the stage, wrapping a tutu round her and dances with her – sweet – then does the same with an abashed guy in a suit. Finally come the clowns; the king of fools – who makes even the ‘housekeeping’ notes amusing, lampooning the corporate sponsors – and his even more foolish compadres.
So to the main event. Cirque du Soleil specializes in incorporating the best circus ‘turns’ with a storyline. KOOZA’s plot involves The Innocent, a little Everyman who is simply trying – and failing – to fly his kite. Into his life comes The Trickster, part Svengali, part Joker, a manipulator who takes him on a journey beyond his imagination, giving him powers he’s never dreamt of. Interwoven with this are some of the finest circus acts in the world. It would be unfair to prospective audiences to detail their extraordinary feats, but also unfair to the artists not to pick out a few for special mention. The Teeterboard and High & Low Wires are spectacular, but no-one who was at the Albert Hall will forget the Wheel of Death, two devilish superheroes who fly around the highest levels of the theater. Truly astonishing. Leavening the athletic performances are some wild slapstick humor and the whole is underpinned by a magnificent live band and singers.
KOOZA has been directed by David Shiner, one of Cirque du Soleil’s original creators, who aimed to take the group back to its roots – craziness, humor and clowning mixed with surprise and a little fear. This he has achieved. The publicity promises thrills and chills, audacity and total involvement. You won’t be short-changed.