Quidam

Published January 8, 2014

You can’t accuse Cirque Du Soleil of skimping on ideas or holding back on spectacle when they created Quidam.

The show, first staged by the famous Canadian circus troupe in 1996, has so much going on around the edges that if the central performers weren’t so superhumanly talented you could get distracted.

Why is there an Icarus-style chap running around with framework wings that could have been made from War Horse spares? What’s the extra from A Midsummer Night’s Dream doing scooting round the stage? Why is the ensemble trundling about in HazChem outfits?

So many questions, but not a single answer.

The show’s story is equally elusive. There’s definitely a young girl who opens the front door to a headless umbrella carrier whose hat seems to split her from her parents and transport her to a world sitting comfortably on the periphery of nightmare. More than that, who knows?

But equally, who cares when this world is inhabited by a plethora of ambiguous creatures with unbelievable skills. A fishy looking scarecrow type puts himself and the audience in a spin with his antics on the giant German Wheel. A pair of genuinely statuesque performers deliver feats of strength and balance that astonish.

The loudest gasps of the night are reserved for the banquine finale, a spectacle that finds Quidam’s performers launched high into the air – spinning, pirouetting, trying not to clash with their colleagues mid-leap – to be caught by more grounded performers or land on shoulders already two or three people high. It takes something to make a venue the size of the Royal Albert Hall freeze with tension and anticipation, but this is exactly what happens.

There’s also wonderment at less perilous tasks. The dynamic diablo demonstration is hypnotic, while the skipping takes the schoolyard favourite to extreme levels.

If you put aside the fact that much of the production is more random than the National Lottery draw and ignore the oddness taking place on the outskirts of your vision, Quidam is a spectacular and beautiful demonstration of just how much the human body can achieve.

Previous review of Quidam when it played at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009, by Matthew Amer:

How do you begin to describe something that leaves your mouth gaping open with awe and wonder, as if trying to breathe in the solution to the impossibility of what you are seeing? How do you put into words the sense of amazement at feats of strength and skill that shouldn’t be humanly possible, but are, and are performed with a grace and ease that make them seem wholly natural?

Quidam (pronounced to rhyme with a Dutch cheese), is the latest show to be presented by Canadian circus theatre group Cirque Du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall. Linked by the story of a young girl ignored by her parents who is taken into a world of wonder by an enigmatic stranger, the ‘plot’ is really just a framework to string together acrobatic feats that leave the audience gasping with disbelief.

A towering industrial metal arc looms over the stage in the centre of the famous venue, providing support for the wealth of aerial acts in this production. Cirque Du Soleil’s performers wow on trapeze, on ropes, on silk, on almost anything that can be climbed, wrapped around or swung on, and they do so with the poise and beauty of a suspended ballet.

By contrast, the performers with their feet on the ground – though few of them remain grounded for long – often work at a frenetic pace. In the hands of Cirque Du Soleil, the playground ritual of skipping becomes a choreographic treat of blurred ropes and near- perfect timing, while four children show street performers everywhere just how exciting the diabolo can be in a spellbinding routine that very nearly stole the show.

It would have done, had the banquine finale – which sees 15 acrobats performing genuinely terrifying leaps – not been quite so heart-poundingly impressive.

Amid the constant stream of visual delights drip fed to the audience over the course of two and a half hours, the action is broken with comic interludes from a clown and his willing volunteers, that actually make the audience laugh.

But it was not the clown’s antics that every audience member was secretly thinking about trying on their journey home. On another night I might have tried leaping onto my companion’s shoulders; in the end I thought it was a bit chilly.