Voltaire himself appears (in duplicate) as a lugubrious master of ceremonies, orchestrating nightmarish aerial fantasies in which weird masked figures winch themselves painfully to the ceiling, and a ghoulish bride in a dress 40ft long lets out heart-stopping shrieks and appears to plunge to her death. This pessimistic tale is not for the squeamish or for the very young, though Cirque Baroque's treatment does find room for some piquant comedy. I loved the pair of twinkle-toed Beryl Cook fatties, whose pneumatic tumbling routine defied the 20-stone expectation of their vast puckered buttocks and big rubbery thighs.
If the performers' acrobatic technique falls somewhat short of that of the Russian or Chinese circuses we've seen, they more than compensate with their sheer theatricality, and their spectacular use of mime and masks. These things are taken seriously in France. The company's director, Christian Taguet, once an acrobat and now governor of France's leading circus school, has received the equivalent of a knighthood for this work. Forget circus as gasp factor. For all its physicality, this is circus of the mind. (Three Mills Island Green, E3, 0171 494 5491, Thurs to Sun 14 Sept & 18-21 Sept.) Jenny Gilbert