REVIEW: Cirque Du Soleil, Varekai, Newcastle Arena, until February 19

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How on earth did they do that?!

If you ever need reminding of just how amazing the human body is, you need only sit and marvel at the acrobatics, strength and jaw-dropping leaps of the super talented troupe from Cirque Du Soleil.

The straps section

The straps section

I had to look through my fingers on numerous occasions as they swung from a trapeze with the security of someone with a dozen security ropes - instead of a harness-free performer relying on just their own strength and agility to keep them from crashing to their ground - and tumbled through mid-air like they had springs for feet and wings for arms. These are performers who laugh in the face of fear.

The world’s most famous and theatrical circus is in Newcastle all this week for its first-ever UK arena tour of Varekai. The scene is set amongst the backdrop of birdsong, deep in a bamboo forest at the summit of a volcano.

The journey into this weird and wonderful world, filled with colourful creatures, begins with the fall of Icarus who dares to fly too close to the volcano and plummets into this kaleidoscopic land.

As he loses his wings, he finds himself trapped in a net which aerialist Fernando Miro manipulates into everything, from a trapeze to a climbing frame to a rope swing, which he uses to launch himself through the air. With beautifully balletic fluidity, he performs an enchanting routine of interlinking sequences whilst suspended within the net, which wouldn’t look out of place in any Greek mythology tale.

The fall of Icarus

The fall of Icarus

But this being the circus, it isn’t all about fantasy feats, there’s plenty of comedy too. Cue clowns Sean Kempton and Emily Carragher who play everything from interfering ushers to bumbling magicians. They don’t draw the oohhhs and ahhs of the aerial feats, but their physical humour appeals to the younger members of the audience who’ll probably appreciate the slapstick silliness more than the adults.

Back to those amazing acro gymnasts. Darina Mashina is truly magical on the Canes and moves her graceful, lithe body in ways I never thought possible. For those of us who can barely touch their toes, it’s a humbling experience.

An equally impressive display of strength comes from Oleksii Kozakov and Alexander Romashyn who, clad in leather trunks, use their own strength, and each other’s, for a daring mid-air display as they soar on the Straps.

But it was the acrobats in the Russian Swings section who had me wondering just how many health and safety assessment forms must go into a show like this.

Varekai

Varekai

This incredibly-athletic team launch themselves from swing-boats and twirl through the air to land on the hands or shoulders of their fellow athletes in a dramatic finale that leaves you out of breath just watching it. This is shuggy boat, but not as we know it!

The narrative is a little confusing (though you don’t come to the circus for the plot), but it’s all strung together beautifully by on stage musicians and singers, clad in wacky, spiked costumes, who help to make Varekai even more vivid and a fantastical feast for all the senses.