“You don’t see something like that every day,” said the four-year-old next to me to his mum. Indeed not: in Ovo, people ping off walls, fly through the air, twist themselves into pipe-cleaner shapes, and juggle each other – with their feet. And all dressed in insect outfits riotously decorated with various glitters, gauzes, panels and protuberances. Which bit, I asked the boy, did you like best? “All of it,” he said. “Everything.”
There is a lot to like when the show awakens your own inner four-year-old, open to amazement and sensation but not too bothered by sense or story. Rubber-spined Kyle Cragle (a dragonfly) balances on one hand atop a climbing frame, his pelvis tilting and legs splaying at impossible angles. Fellow contortionist Ariunsanaa Bataa (a white spider) braces her chin on a rotating rod and arches her back so far that her legs slope down past her face. You marvel – and also wince. There’s a giant, worm-limbed Slinky (Sergyi Rysenko), and a spiderman (Jianming Qiu) who rides a unicycle – upside down, on a rope 15ft above the ground. But, as ever, it’s the aerial acts that inspire the most wonder, whether through the swooping beauty of dancers swinging on ropes, the bouncy-flea somersaults of tumbling acrobats, or the vertiginous exactitude of flying trapeze artists. You think insects are strange? Look at these humans.
Where the show works less well is in the theatrical storyline that threads through the acts, featuring the eponymous egg, a bumbling beetle and a goofball fly who falls for a sassy ladybird. Never mind whether you find clowning intrinsically creepy, what bugged me was the comedy courtship, with its low-level male pestering and eye-fluttering female mock-outrage. The insect world is full of strange societies and marvellous mating rites, and resorting to such human stereotypes feels like a lack not just of consideration, but of imagination.
If I were to rate it, I’d waver between three and four stars. It’s directed by Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker, whose penchant for physical risk and moveable sets, and whose background embracing contemporary dance, athletics, pop video and carnival parades, makes her a good fit for the circus company. And it is very much circus rather than theatre, much stronger on spectacle than drama. While grownups may yearn for more coherence or depth, four-year-olds will go away dreaming of flying.
Background note: Cirque du Soleil withdrew their review ticket to Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner after an earlier negative review. They offered it to me with no problem (I hadn’t reviewed them before), so the Guardian bought Lyn a ticket and sent us both, and published a double review. The text above is my part. To see Gardner’s view as well, go to: www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/jan/11/cirque-du-soleil-ovo-royal-opera-house-london