Archive for January, 2023

Photo: Mathew Tsang

Writer and director:  Michel Laprise

Creative director: Chantal Tremblay


High-flying. Death-defying. Jaw dropping. The clichés abound when describing the work of Cirque du Soleil, the French-Canadian entertainment group that was founded in 1984. This “circus of the sun” resumes its regular Winter visits to London with the European premiere of the new show, Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities.

The Royal Albert Hall is celebrating its 150th Birthday and it seems likely that many of the basic stunts seen in this show pre-date it. However, Cirque du Soleil is not about the basics, it is about presentation and packaging. As expected, the show is a visual extravaganza that revels in the enormous space (most specifically the height) made available. The show and the venue are matched perfectly to each other.

In Kurios… the flimsy premise is that a seeker opens their large curio cupboard to release the world’s hidden marvels and bring them to vibrant life. The curiosities that emerge stretch our imaginations to the limits, as directors Michel Laprise and Chantal Tremblay fill the stage and above it with dazzling colour and non-stop action. Original music complements the surreal images and the whole spectacle is seasoned with generous sprinklings of visual wit

So send in the clowns, the jugglers, the acrobats, the trapeze artists, the high wire walkers, the brave and the foolish. The invitation is to sit back in amazement, but don’t try any of it at home. Even PT Barnum might have conceded that this is the greatest show were it not for the absence of elephants, tigers, etc, none of which would be acceptable to modern audiences. Compensation is offered in an invisible circus comedy sequence, during which the deafening roar of an unseen lion echoes around the Hall.

On arrival, the audience is greeted by Stéphane Roy’s labyrinthine set and even given the opportunity to walk through it. There are enough zany, garish costumes, designed by Philippe Guillotel, to inspire several series of The Masked Singer. Performers are seen clambering up a tree of precariously balanced chairs towards the old building’s dome, falling as if from the sky and swinging out above the heads of the gaping audience. Arms and legs are in positions that they really have no right to be as precisely timed acrobatic choreography provides thrills galore.

The show has its climaxes, soaring (literally and otherwise) to the heights and is seldom grounded. Served up withe customary panache.  Kurios… may not have many surprises, but it is hard to think of any disappointments.

Performancece date: 18 January 2023

On the Ropes (Park Theatre)

Posted: January 11, 2023 in Theatre

Photo: Steve Gregson

Writers: Vernon Vanriel and Dougie Blaxland

Director: Anastasia Osei-Kuffour


The Park 200 Theatre, named to reflect its seating capacity, is expanded to accommodate many more than that number for the World Premiere of On the Ropes. Zahra Mansouri’s design transforms the space to resemble a compact sports arena, with spectators sitting on all four sides of a Boxing ring. Actors and audience are both, almost literally, on the ropes.

The play, in part a musical, is autobiographical, written by its subject, Vernon Vanriel, in collaboration with Dougie Blaxland. The story is told in 12 “rounds” and the ring becomes a metaphor for a life full of challenges and confrontations, victories and defeats. Vernon had arrived in the United Kingdom from Jamaica, aged six, as part of the Windrush generation, settling in Tottenham. He fails academically, but drifts into the Boxing world, where he thrives.

The story traces Vernon’s career through the 1970s and 80s from turning professional in small clubs to topping the bill at the Royal Albert Hall. He acquires the nickname “The Entertainer”, due to his insistence on putting on a show for his followers and takes on Boxing’s establishment to secure fair ticket pricing for his bouts. After retirement, new opponents emerge for him, combatting mental illness, Cocaine addiction and a serious heart condition. All this and his biggest fight is still to come.

There is a lot packed into a crowded first half, perhaps too much for a single drama, but director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s high energy production dances as if to the beat of a Reggae tune, its relentless pace  leaving little time for reflection. It is buoyed by three superb performances, the trio being on stage continuously throughout: Mensah Bediako, ageing some 50 years, is a commanding figure as Vernon, with Ashley D Gayle and and Amber James playing all the key people in his life.

The dialogue, some of it in rhyming verse, is crisp and the drama reflects Vernon’s passion for music by incorporating several classic songs of black origin – some Soul and Gospel in style, but primarily Reggae. Yes these musical interludes impede the flow of the storytelling, but the quality of the performances negates any cause for complaint.

In later life, Vernon returns to Jamaica to visit his new-born sone and finds himself barred from re-entering the United Kingdom. He is caught up in the scandal of the Home Office’s treatment of Windrush generation immigrants. Stranded and suffering many years of extreme poverty and degradation, he is sustained only by the in-born spirit of a fighter. This part of the story is depicted powerfully, but it make up a more sombre second act in which much of the production’s earlier rhythm is lost and the drama begins to feel slightly overlong.

On the Ropes tells an important true story and wraps it in a parcel of rich entertainment. Maybe the show is not entirely a knockout, but it certainly packs a heavy punch.

Performance date: 10 January 2023

Salt-Water Moon (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: January 6, 2023 in Theatre

Writer: David French

Director: Peter Kavanagh


Arriving a little too early for St Valentine’s Day, Canadian writer David French’s 75-minute play brings a scent of romance to the January air. We are told that the play has been performed regularly in North America and elsewhere since its first staging in 1984; perhaps this is due equally to its feel-good appeal and to the fact that, with just two actors and one simple set, it is extremely easy to put on anywhere at any time.

Surprisingly, the play is receiving its United Kingdom premiere here. The setting is a remote Newfoundland coastal village in 1926. The dark shadow of the First World War still hangs over the inhabitants as Jacob, a young man who had left for Toronto a year earlier, returns to be reunited with Mary, the sweetheart whom he had abandoned without saying proper goodbyes. In Jacob’s absence, Mary has become engaged to marry another man who can offer her security and stability.

Mim Houghton’s set design, a white bench and side table on grass against a backdrop of brightly shining stars, lends a dreamy feel to director Peter Kavanagh’s  captivating production. In this idyllic spot, the one-time lovers rake over the past and the play asks will they or won’t they reconcile their differences.

Joseph Potter’s Jacob has the impish charm to counter perfectly the slightly tarnished innocence of Bryony Miller’s Mary. Their exchanges bristle with romantic innuendo to suggest an undying chemistry between them. French’s dialogue also reveals some grimmer details of Newfoundland life in the 1920s and reminds us of the losses of Canadian families from the Great War in Europe.

Its social and historical observations are interesting, but, essentially, Salt-Water Moon is a fluffy romcom, albeit one that is a bit light on the comedy. Even though its journey and its destination throw up few surprises, the play still leaves much to enjoy along the way.

Performance date: 5 January 2023