Remarkably unfunny clowns, coupled with a confusing narrative, mar this otherwise spectacular production of the long-running Varekai.

Varekai, directed by Dominic Champagne, is based on the myth of Icarus and picks up where the mythical narrative leaves off with Icarus plummeting to the stage from the sky. Although that’s not quite where this production starts – first the audience must endure fifteen very long minutes of unamusing interaction led by two clowns who ridicule and throw popcorn over certain members of the audience. Luckily the show can only get better. And it does. Once the rest of the cast are allowed to take to the stage things improve, with beautifully choreographed dance scenes, and exotically alluring costumes.

The audience hold their breath at the wondrous feats unfolding before them.

Cirque du Soleil is famed all over the globe for its astonishing performers and death defying stunts. Varekai is no different; expect to see awesome trapeze work, stunning tumblers and unbelievable contortionists. This is what makes Varekai enjoyable – a selection of some of the finest performers in the world demonstrating their skill right in front of your eyes.

The music is performed live by a group of seven musicians and two singers, all of whom are fabulous. There are slow numbers to reflect the beautiful display of human skill taking place on stage, and there are pieces which race along at a presto and build to a mighty crescendo as an acrobat takes his final gravity defying leap, or a trapeze artist swirls away into the darkness above the arena stage. The tension within the arena is palpable at such moments, as the audience in its entirety hold their breath at the wondrous feats unfolding before them.

Photos from Julie Desmarais.

The set, designed by Stéphane Roy, is marvellous too; hundreds of metal rods imitate a forest, from which the performers emerge mysteriously. Towering above the stage and audience is a lookout which monkey-like characters scale and leap along. Within the stage there are numerous trapdoors, and moveable segments which add to the show’s artistry and demand the audience pay attention to the action.

It is the crude clowns that spoil this show for me, their acts so unoriginal, and in some cases mean, as to leave a bad taste in my mouth. But what it really comes down to, and the reason many pay to see Cirque, are the breathtaking displays of human talent, and the extraordinary stunts. At these, Varekai excels.

Varekai runs at Sheffield Arena until Sunday 5 February. Click here for more information and tickets.

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