Let’s get one thing straight: if you’re expecting to see a traditional circus show, then this isn’t it – it’s far better.
Ovo is Cirque Du Soleil’s immersive touring circus production, currently showing at the Manchester Arena.
Created and directed by Deborah Colker, Ovo is an egg-themed, insect-laden production heavy with narrative and poeticism which, admittedly, is at times slightly overdone.
But for the most part, it’s a truly wonderful reimagining of the circus experience that combines old with new and offers a fresh look at what the circus could be.
The immersive experience begins before the show officially starts, with buzzing and chirping sounds echoing around the stadium. Gradually performers emerge, tantalising and teasing the audience with fantastical and stunning costumes that seem to have a life of their own… just watch out for the jumping hand.
A giant egg looms large in the middle of the stage, symbolic of the ‘circle of life’ theme that runs throughout the show.
With three ringmasters (as opposed to traditionally just one) including a ladybird and bluebottle fly, Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo stretches and reinvents the boundaries of circus performance.
A loose-fitting narrative runs throughout the production, of a stolen egg and the love story that develops in trying to retrieve it.
It was a shame that the Arena was only filled to around two-thirds of its capacity for such a dazzling and ambitious opening night, though perhaps that is because of its outlandish concept.
This is not simply a circus performance where acts perform death-defying stunts after the other, it is instead a hubbub of energy and movement combining elements of the circus within it.
Whether or not Ovo is a little too bonkers for everyone’s liking cannot detract from the faultless precision and heart-in-your-throat performances delivered by the performers.
One female cast member contorts and twists to the point where she looks practically inverted, another unicycles upside down on a moving tightrope, and trampoliners synchronise spins and twirls while launching themselves off rock climbing walls – it’s madness.
Particularly impressive is the trapeze act, where performers whizz through the air at increasing speed while flinging evermore members of the cast at each other.
Audible “wows” and “aahs” from the audience further reinforce the impressiveness of the ambitious performances.
Ovo is so much more than a circus. It has live music in the form of violins and tambourines performed on stage, a Sambia-inspired soundtrack, singers, and a unique dialogue between characters, evocative of video game The Sims.
Of course, there is the traditional interaction with audience members, but without a clown in sight there is nothing to fear about this show. Don’t expect to hear many recognisable words, either, as very few are comprehensible, but the slapstick comedy expected in the circus is still delivered with perfect timing.
You can expect to see a diabolo-juggling firefly, foot-juggling ants and huge stick insects weaving around the stage as large flowers bloom and close while hanging from the ceiling, again further reinforcing the circular theme of life that looms large.
A ‘caterpillar’ even breaks free from its ‘cocoon’ while dangling precariously in the air, with applause all around encouraging the symbolic and literal burst into life.
The stage itself also seems to be fluid, with a moving wall, trampoline net, and collapsible swinging poles that performers perch and sway from.
Liz Vandal’s costume design deserves special commendation in what can only be described as a giant creature resembling a Slinky toy, contorting across the stage and jiggling around in the dance numbers.
Cirque Du Soleil’s Ovo is a genius blend of creativity, rhythm, and nonsense – but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea because it really is so bonkers.
That said, if you’re willing to forget everything you know about the circus, then you’ll be in for a smashing show,.