Cardiff City Football Ground, Cardiff – until 11 May 2017
Last time I saw circus mixed with flapper era razzle-dazzle and golden-age Hollywood themes, it was in the Broadway musical debut of Cirque Du Soleil, Paramour. Now, Gostinitsa – the outstanding new show from Moscow State Circus – takes the same glamorous aesthetic but eschews attempts at plot, setting its high-skill acts within the comings and goings of a fantasy hotel.
Swivelling wooden doors, a troupe of chirpy bell-boys, and the comedy flirtations of head porter Alex (Alexander Chervotkin) and cleaning lady Bella (Elena Chervotkina) set the scene for the arrival of a glittering cast and crew who, apparently, are taking over the hotel whilst making their latest movie.
The show is beautifully lit throughout by Noel Christian Wainman and costumes are splendid. No designer is credited, so instead credit must go to directors Anthony Anderson and John Haze, who have produced a cohesively themed big-top show with exceptionally high quality acts, wrapped up in a delicious visual package.
Anna Rastsova epitomises 1930’s screen goddess elegance and a sense of burgeoning feminine freedom in her swinging trapeze routine. The Alikhanov Troupe, dressed in doublet and hose ready for their part in the historical epic, create an epic of their own with an 8-person perch act that sees a sequence of 10 meter-tall poles scaled by members of the company, whilst balanced on each other’s shoulders or heads (I totally geek out when the poles are tilted earthwards to allow the men hung from ankle-loops above to lift and raise a partner out of the ring and back into the air).
A classy Yana Alieva combines hula and aerial hoops into one number to the strains of Shirley Bassey singing P!nk, while the sounds of motorcycles revving are an amusing intro for the steampunk styled Viktor Gorodetsky on a variety of interchanging uni-and mono-cycles.
The gags are funny throughout, and often evolve with a surprising twist. The faux magic act of the Chervotkin clown duo in the first half is the exception, missing the mark for me as the pair set each other up to fail and then proceed to do just that. By the time my partner and I are volunteered into the ring during the second half though, I am laughing as hard as everyone else. I only wish I’d been able to get a picture as we were roped into the jealous games of Alex and Bella!
The white tent with its large concessions foyer and buggy park is now billed as the biggest in the UK, taking over the title from Zippos’ MegaDome. A well stocked bar is a nice touch, as are the postered walls and Russian doll souvenirs. The burger was fine, if nothing special. The seats inside are padded with red fabric and numbered in gold brocade, which ties nicely to the theme of the show as well as providing a little nod to conventional theatre-going. And the toilet wagon is as neat and branded as everything else.
Another incarnation of the Alikhanov Troupe appears in new classical theatre inspired costumes. Shimmering in dusky blue that glints with suns and stars, the five climb diagonal wires with feathered fans and glitterballs held like lanterns to reach the high wire line above. Epic orchestral music backs a sequence of crosses over, around and above the wire. It’s a beautiful act, and by the time they make a 3-high crossing my mouth is hanging open and my eyes well with the music’s swell.
A sultry white clad starlet (Yevheniia Honcharova) combines lyrical staff manipulation with footjuggling in another unusual and elegant sequence, which segues smoothly into the next routine as she as literally passes the baton to the more modern white clad duo who take it into the air. Foot and wrist loops – and, eventually, a neck strap – are all part of the pole’s construction as the male and female pairing support and dangle each other above the ring (programme and internet are both unforthcoming with the artists’ names, unfortunately). The light show is as impressive as the aerial and groundbased transition dance moves.
As the Porter character re-establishes the hotel foyer, I berate myself for nit-picking at tiny details in my notes. Yes, a chaise lounge would have been a more appropriate prop than a park bench, but really it’s only because the overall quality of the show is so high that it seems such a shame when little things slip through the cracks.
After our stint onstage as hapless but happy volunteers, a jubilant dance from the company in between the ring and the audience seats melts into a solemn and patriotic finale. The Didyk Troupe bell-boy team are now in their element as two Russian Swings are pushed into action. The Moscow State Circus website declares that this is the only double Russian Swing act in Europe, and I know I have only ever seen it across the Atlantic. What I didn’t see then, however, was the addition of a cradle hoisted up between the two and used in combination with the swings, hurtling bodies across the space to land on mats cushioned with red and gold like our own seats.
The Moscow State Circus have a deserved name for themselves for presenting virtuosic performers. With Gostinitsa, however, they have also pulled off the production to match. Well worth a visit.