Cirque du Soleil: Varekai, Royal Albert Hall, London

This flying circus has its own sun and talent to burn

Extravagant. That's the word that best sums up Cirque du Soleil. That will certainly have been the word uppermost in the mind if yours was the debit card that covered the tickets (the cheapest are £41).

But it's also the only way to describe an enterprise that so deliberately squanders its resources. It's impossible to count, let alone register and identify, all the varieties of fantasy animal-life that slithers, backflips and pogos around the perimeter of the action at regular intervals in Cirque's current show at the Albert Hall. And beyond the backdrop of tall brass poles, a Chinese fairytale bamboo forest that screens the pipework of the venue's famous organ and provides something for the chorus to swarm up, there is yet more gymnastic activity, glimpsed fitfully in the distance: strong men working giant swingboats in a haze of red smoke. We have talent to burn, that's the message.

Varekei (a Romany word for "wherever", we're told) isn't new to London – it first appeared two winters ago – but it's one of the most persuasive presentations in the Cirque du Soleil canon, partly because, in not even attempting much of a story, it avoids the cloying whimsy that beleaguered the shows Allegria and Quidam. If there is a single theme it is that of human flight, which is especially apt when you know that company founder Guy Laliberté, who in 1984 was a stilt-walker on the streets Montreal, has grown so rich that last year he could afford to become Canada's first space tourist.

So, we have Icarus (the tall, pale aerialist Mark Halasi) dropping from the sky into ... wherever, indeed: a land that's part carnival-hued prehistory, part rainforest disco party. The seamless, atmospheric score (as always, performed live, though you're mostly unaware of this: it sounds just too studio-perfect) is a smooth patchwork of klezmer, calypso, samba, Eurovision, Carmina Burana-style choral blasts and Asian melismatic song. Wherever, whenever, whatever .... The words of the songs, delivered as if they mean something, are nonsense, a babble that needs no translation. Given Cirque du Soleil's global reach, that may be strategic, but it's also emblematic of the brand's glossy emptiness.

All the memorable content comes from individuals, but you won't find out who they are unless you cough up another £12 for a programme. (If the Royal Opera House can supply free cast sheets, why can't Cirque du Soleil?) Although it's fashionable to say that all Cirque shows are alike, in fact the company goes to a great deal of trouble to bring novelty to familiar disciplines. Yes, Icarus is an aerial act, but performed inside a net, variously scrunched into service as a rope, spread out as a climbing frame, or used as swaddling as a spider might bind a fly. This is lovelier than it sounds, strung up high in gleaming white.

The two contrasting clown acts are a long way from red-nose jobs. Bradley Denys is a Robinson Crusoe with grass growing out of his pants. The duo of Steven Bishop and Mooky Cornish is an inept Butlins magic act, he a preening Latin maestro who cannot keep his assistant in check, she a plump silly cluck who repeatedly brings the house down with her inability to remain upright in her shoes.

The ah-factor, and there is always one, is provided by three disturbingly small Chinese boys who, with an expertise belied by their apparent age (five or six?), twirl skull-threatening metal objects joined by a length of string. Cirque refuses to divulge the ages of its performers. One can only trust that there are regulations to protect these little guys.

As usual, though, it is the projection of human bodies through great tracts of nothingness that proves most inspiring. Stand up, or rather, hang in there, British identical twin strap-swingers Andrew and Kevin Atherton. Sleek and sinister in their hi-rise leather trunks and shinpads, curiously coiffed in Amy Winehouse wigs, the brothers swoop about Prince Albert's great barn-interior like the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings – terrifying in their cruel disdain of earthlings, majestic in their appetite for air and space.

Circus of the sun? I think not. This is the thrilling stuff of outer darkness.

Royal Albert Hall (020-7838 3122) to 14 Feb. Trafford Centre, Manchester, 25 Feb to 21 Mar. Cirque du Soleil returns in May to tour eight British arenas with the show 'Saltimbanco'

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living