Monday, 7 March 2011

Chinese State Circus: Mulan - Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Story adaptors: Tony Wilkie-Millar & Tian Run Min
Music: Mr. Wu Jia Ji
Choreography: Ms. Zhang Hongtao
Reviewer: Sarah Medcalf

The Chinese State Circus was established in the 1990s by Carol and Phillip Gandey after they had seen a group of oriental acrobats performing to widespread acclaim at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival with a quality, depth and diversity they had never seen before in acrobatic circus. In creating Chinese State Circus productions to tour the world, Gandey World Class Productions continues to celebrate a traditional Chinese art form, the history of which can be traced back over thousands of years.

The current tour bills itself as a ‘live action spectacular’, depicting the traditional legend of Mulan, one of China’s great heroines. The performance at Venue Cymru in Llandudno was certainly spectacular – without a doubt one of the most exciting and exhilarating circus shows I have ever had the pleasure to see, with each act more ambitious and thrilling than the last. The performance brings together spectacular costumes and props, brilliant choreography, a unique musical score, traditional martial arts, circus skills and daredevil acrobatics to create a truly dazzling show to delight young and old.

The incarnation of the legend of Mulan was less successful – not least because it seemed unnecessary, as the show was more than entertaining enough without requiring the thread or theme of the story to tie all the aspects together. The storyline was also difficult to follow: the links made by the narrators between events in the story and each new circus act were at best tenuous, and the narration itself wasn’t easy to understand as the voices of the characters telling the story were not those of the performers on stage, which sometimes gave the unfortunate effect of watching a poorly dubbed film. The two principal narrators – Monkey and Pig – were talented acrobats, but appeared sometimes to adopt personas more suited to a British pantomime than a thrilling circus performance.

Despite these drawbacks, however, I don’t believe that any adult or child in the audience could fail to be impressed and astounded by the talented performances, which literally had the whole theatre hanging breathless with suspense and gasping with delight. Conventional circus acts such as plate spinning, juggling and diablo are taken into a whole new dimension of difficulty and skill and unique acts such as the cup-throwing girls on unicycles have the audience laughing out loud with astonishment. The martial arts performed by the Shaolin Warriors demonstrate incredible acrobatic skill and a terrifying immunity to pain and discomfort, while the traditional Chinese lion and dragon dances are a spectacle of colour and movement.

Although billed as ‘entertainment for all the family’, this should not imply that the show is only suitable for those with young children: I would not hesitate to recommend the show to all, young and old. It is impossible not to be delighted, amazed and entertained by the precision, daring, skill and zest for life that is embodied by each and every act and performer.

Runs until 8 March 2011.
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