The cast of Cirque Le Roux have created something very special here. We discover quite quickly that it is, in essence, a love story within a love story – one told through composed, almost balletic circus skills. And the elephant in the room, though always present, shifts its focus from time to time.
We meet the fickle and rather heartless Miss Betty (Lolita Costet), who is pursued by the dashing John Barick (Yannick Thomas). But there is also another suitor in the wings, Mr Chance (Philip Rosenberg). He is indeed a Chance by name and chancer by nature, and it seems that he really can't make up his mind who he really wants to be with. Throw into the mix a nervous and people-pleasing butler, Gregory Arsenal (Jeune Bouchon), and you have a recipe for some real fun and games.
The only real flaw of this production is most evident in its early scenes: the action seems too frantic, and often there is simply too much happening on stage. But hang on in there, because it settles down, and there are some lovely elements to this humorous but touching story. It is a real ensemble piece, with each performer totally dependent on the skills and reliability of the others. I particularly admired Thomas, provider of the strong solid base which all the others balance, stand on and hang from – and look out for his extraordinarily lifelike gorilla impression too, because it will blow you away.
Bouchon's Chaplinesque antics held me mesmerised as he tripped and flung himself around the stage, his clowning skills and sense of comedic timing creating some pure moments of magic. Rosenberg proved just how versatile a tailor's dummy can be (when it's used imaginatively), and an old-time circus act involving all four members of the cast in constant motion was sheer brilliance. The fearless Costet allowed herself to be thrown around and caught in all kinds of different combinations, a display of trust and agility that was staggering to watch.
I absolutely loved the use of music, costume and lighting, all three adding so much to the enjoyment of the action on stage. A beautiful piano solo allowed for a sublime piece of acrobatic mirroring between Bouchon and Rosenberg, as they danced their way delicately amongst lampshades that were dangling gracefully from the roof.
But they saved the very best till last: a finale involving all four characters, and nothing else but a pole reaching from floor to ceiling. As the four acrobats climbed, balanced and hung, with only each other as their safety nets, I found myself gasping with anticipation at the apparent risk of what they were doing. It was a truly breathtaking way to end the show. Forget Billy Smart: this was circus with a difference, and if you want an evening where you will not fail to be impressed, then get yourself down to this big top this festival.