Bitten by the bug: Little critters get big treatment by Cirque Du Soleil
I love a good Cirque Du Soleil show.
There's something about the way that award-winning Canadian company mix the traditional high wire thrills of the circus with death-defying acts of world class gymnastics and good old-fashioned comic prat falling that speaks to my inner child. It's a blend of danger and bright and breezy escapism that keeps me, and millions more like me all over the globe, coming back for more every time a new show hits the road.
As OVO, their latest touring production swings into Belfast for a run of dates this week at the SSE Arena, that tradition for excellence continues. A big, bold and brassy story of family and belonging that throws us deep into the undergrowth for a look at the world of bugs who exist beneath our feet, this really is a fun theatrical experience for all the family.
I had the pleasure of attending the UK premiere of the show in Liverpool in August and sitting alongside a whole array of celebs from local hero Ricky Tomlinson to Match Of The Day presenter Mark Chapman and Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood as the action unfolded. I'm pleased to say that OVO delivered the goods and might even be Cirque Du Soleil's most colourful and dramatic production to date.
This journey into the magical world of insects throws up some seriously stunning feats of acrobatic skill to marvel at and moments of real heart-stopping danger and delight to savour as well. That's what watching a 50-strong team of international gymnasts performing at the very top of their game will do for you I suppose. From a technical point of view this is a show that will leave you gasping for breath at times as Eastern European sportsmen dressed as bugs bounce to preposterous heights on Velcro walls, dancing butterflies swing high above the audience's heads on silk ropes and teams of Asian athletes disguised as ants juggle huge slices of plastic fruit using only their legs.
If the skill the performers display on stage is notable for its complexity, the basic storyline, as is often the way in a Cirque show, is anything but. Crafted for the stage by Brazilian director and choreographer Deborah Colker, OVO - which is 'Egg' in Portuguese - is so simple even the youngest of audience members should have no trouble getting to grips with what is going on.
This is a colourful journey into the wonderful world of insects with all the varied beasties and creepy crawlies that entails.
The story, or what passes for a story at any rate, goes something like this. A foolish, well-meaning bluebottle fly buzzes noisily into view carrying a huge egg on his tiny back and sets off a whole series of social upsets and incidents as he is first rejected and then eventually taken in by his fellow bugs as part of their diverse community. As he is accepted into the insect society, he falls under the guidance of a slightly pompous, older boss bug Mr Flippo - who gets most of the best comic moments - and falls deeply in love with The Ladybug, a beautiful larger than life bug who is searching endlessly for her Mr Right. Plot wise that's really about it.
As stories go it's slight for sure but it is very family friendly and the bright, primary colours make for a gorgeous visual backdrop that is both stylish and highly memorable.
All these simple shiny comic characters - so impressively designed by Liz Vandal - are really just there to illustrate all the cultural diversity that exists in the long grass. Their purpose is just to provide a playground for some of the most crazy, awe-inspiring acts of gymnastic prowess you will ever see.
Add to this heady mix a hugely impressive multi-level set, that was developed for arenas from the circus tent spaces this show originally played in when it first toured 10 long years ago, a gorgeous and surprisingly subtle live music score that complements both the action and the humour perfectly and it's easy to see why this is a show that's worth getting excited about.
The plot may be seriously flimsy and as easy to blow away as a single leaf in a thunderstorm but story has always taken second place to spectacle in the Cirque world and with so much to enjoy on stage you'll soon find yourself caring less about that egg and how those bugs interact than just how those giant grasshoppers move so effortlessly across the stage and how old school acts like high wire walking and the trapeze can still hold an audience entranced the way they did here.
The first night crowd in the Liverpool Echo Arena gasped in awe throughout some of those astonishing set pieces from the likes of former UK gymnastics champion Alanna Baker - who pulls off a spider inspired routine that made my muscles ache in sympathy as I watched - and the children lapped up the silly bug sequences and traditional comic caper stuff as well.
In an age when it's hard to find high quality entertainment for all the family, that's got to be worth celebrating hasn't it and as state-of-the-art physical theatre goes, there's still no show like a Cirque show in my book.
OVO - Cirque Du Soleil runs for six performances only at the SSE Arena Belfast from October 17-21. Tickets on sale from www.ticketmaster.ie