I made the mistake, earlier this afternoon, of reading a review of the show I was about to go and see. What the hell was I thinking? Worse, it wasn't a good review either. Never read a review of something you are committed to seeing. No good can come of it.
As I left the arena at the end of the evening, I recalled Gordon Ramsay's question after receiving a bad review in the New York Times. "Is he so jaded," wondered Ramsay of the Times' restaurant critic, "that a truffle is ordinary?"
Circus is about the physical. It might have the trappings of theatre, with costumes, make-up, lights, and music, but it's about the physical. You go to the circus to see people do things you haven't seen before, that appear impossible and yet there they are.
Cirque du Soleil has the theatrical trappings, in spades, on a huge, almost overwhelming, scale. There were several occasions where I completely missed some large prop coming onto the stage, because my attention was elsewhere. At one point, after watching a stiltwalker who had just processed through the audience, I turned back to the stage and was startled that it was now filled, as if from nowhere, with people.
All that would have been for nothing though without the acrobatics and gymnastics to go with it, and it surely did. There was some fantastic, really fantastic, balancing, a long sequence of rhythmic gymnastics, and any amount of corde lisse, even a hula-hooper.
If Cirque du Soleil has a failing, it is that it doesn't put these astonishing physical feats front and centre. There is no ringmaster asking the audience for quiet, no drum-roll and tight spotlight, no gentle reminder of the difficulty and danger of what you are about to see. By integrating them into such a huge stage, with dancers, singers, and musicians, with projections either side of the stage and often across the stage itself, I do wonder if it actually sells itself a little short.