Mystère by Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas

Cirque du Soleil shows are always amazing, wherever you see them in the world, but in Las Vegas this theatrical circus company has found a real home. There are currently seven permanent shows performing in the desert funfair city, all residents of huge hotel complexes where specially designed theatres are built into the buildings. These auditoriums are playgrounds for the talented acrobats, comedians and musicians, and they bounce and fly around the arenas with ease and genuine enjoyment.

Mystère was the first show to arrive in Las Vegas in 1993, with the first performance thrilling audiences at Treasure Island on Christmas Day. 22 years and 10,000+ performances later this magical show is still considered by many to be the best show to see in Las Vegas. Loosely following the theme of the mystery of life, the show begins with two wailing prams left stationary on stage. There are a few other hints towards this subject, though in true Cirque du Soleil style the piece of theatre takes on a life of its own.

A number of acts have been with the show since it started, a dedication that is testament to the company. We were first greeted with the mischievous clown Brian Dewhurst, marching around the theatre, deceiving innocent guests and throwing popcorn around. He has been on the show for 17 years and still has boundless energy at 83 years old.

The stage is an impressive feat of technical design, no surface is permanent, every part constantly evolves and the scale is astounding. The performance runs seamlessly for 90 minutes, without an interval, which keeps the audience’s attention focused and immersed. A series of dramatic acts in spectacular costumes grace the stage, each with their own supernatural talent. I found the Hand-to-hand act particularly moving, two brothers illustrate super strength, balancing in a range of spectacular poses. As expected the most awe-inspiring acts are left for the finale. A group of acrobats hurl themselves into the air, catapulting each other onto giant trampolines and forming human pyramids. Then we watch high above our heads as brave performers swing on trapezes and swap mid air – it has a dreamlike impossibility.

Every sense is entertained with this award-winning show from the Cirque du Soleil team. I have always loved their circus extravaganzas but somehow it feels bigger, better and more unbelievable in the setting of Las Vegas’ Treasure Island theatre.

More information and book tickets to Mystère here.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY – La bohème, ENO

It’s my experience that a successful bohème must tick 3 boxes; it needs excellent singing from the 6 main characters; undeniable chemistry between Mimi and Rodolfo; and it needs to make you shed a tear or two at the end. Bonus points for making the production fresh, and good production design but these are secondary to the three main criteria. It seems that the latest ENO bohème tried too hard to focus on these secondary criteria rather than making sure the essential boxes were ticked first.

The process of modernizing opera classics is not yet perfected. In some cases it works incredibly well and adds hugely to the production (“for example, see Jonathan Miller’s now mainstream Mafia Rigoletto). In others cases it doesn’t. Unfortunately ENO’s latest staging of bohème veers towards the latter..

In theory, the idea was not preposterous. Replacing Mimi’s outdated illness with a heroin addiction definitely updated the production and made it more relevant to today’s society as opposed to her original, outdated consumptive illness. The heroin first appears as Rodolfo stays behind at the garret (now a stark, white studio littered with bongs and carrier bags) to ‘finish a few lines’. Mimi enters and what was once one of the most touching and beautifully innocent scenes in opera is now replaced with a pair of junkies and their drug-addled infatuation with one another.

The Café Momus scene that follows the pair’s meeting is a busy, bustling feast for the eyes with the ENO chorus creating a fantastic atmosphere as they so often do. The production’s eccentricities continued as Rodolfo bought Mimi a pink wig rather than a traditional bonnet before they join the rest of the bohemians at a neon-lit diner-esque Café Momus. It is unclear whether the bright pink lights and bizarre figures in the scene are a figment of Mimi and Rodolfo’s drug-fuelled high or if it’s just the production’s attempt at modernisation.  This lack of clarity continues into the second half as the heroin was occasionally referenced, for example, Marcello lifting Mimi’s sleeves indicating ‘track marks’, but she still dies from a particularly ‘consumption-y’ cough.

Though this new production still needs to have a few wrinkles ironed out, the music was, on the whole, still excellent. Particular highlights came from Corinne Winters as Mimi and Simon Butteriss as the double part of the equally sleazy Benoit and Alcindoro.  The camaraderie between Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline and Schaunard was definitely there but on occasion the ensemble suffered. Although the chemistry between Winters and Zach Borichevsky (Rodolfo) was tangible, their heroin induced affair seemed to confuse and somewhat diminish the tenderness that has featured in more traditional productions.

Going by the initial tick-list outlined above, out of these three, I’d give the ENO’s latest production of La bohème, 1 and a half ticks; the chemistry between the two lovers was definitely there, regardless of what induced the love; some of the singing was indeed excellent, but there were some shaky moments that unfortunately do not grant an entire ‘tick’ earn only half a tick; and unfortunately not a tear was shed by the writer at the end which is usually the litmus test for any La bohème.

La bohème continues at the ENO until 26 November, book tickets here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: The Barber of Seville, ENO

The year is 1987; Wall Street and Fatal Attraction are the blockbusters of the year, Toni Morrison’s Beloved has just been published, legwarmers and shoulder pads are still a thing, and Jonathan Miller’s much loved production of The Barber of Seville is debuted.  Fast-forward 28 years and the production still stands firm as a crowd favourite, (happily unlike those legwarmers and shoulder pads) proving that new is not always better. Rossini’s comedic yet endearing work is a cornerstone in ‘dramma-giocoso’ opera and this production continues to uphold its reputation, even if there is that initial knee-jerk reaction of feeling confused on hearing English words replacing the familiar Italian.

In a work as full of energy and activity as Rossini’s Barber of Seville, comic timing is everything and this particular cast has mastered the delicate art of well timed physical comedy. Andrew Shore showed his penchant for comedic portrayals with his scene-stealing Bartolo. Other singing highlights included Morgan Pearse as a fresh-faced Figaro who sang the famous repeated “Figaro”s with much aplomb to the audience’s delight. Kathryn Rudge, who played the bright and charming Rosina, handled Rossini’s famously fiendish runs elegantly. These singers were generally well accompanied by the orchestra, save for a few noticeable moments when the balance was not right and the voices were obscured by heavier instruments.

Miller’s gem is still definitely worth going to see, even in it’s 12th revival, and that is something to applaud (as the audience did when Miller himself took a bow on stage). This production’s longevity is a testament to the phrase: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Although Tanya McCallin’s set is very much reminiscent of the time Rossini wrote the work, and the costume is all period dress, the energy and the comedy shown by the singers keeps this production current, and will carry on doing so for yet another few more revivals to come, I’m sure.

Catch the production in cinemas across the UK on Monday 19 October or go and see it at the Coliseum until 11 November. More information here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy.