First things first. “It’s pronounced [EL-WAZ],” a note in the programme begins, before saying anything else about Cirque Éloize and this production of Saloon, set in the Wild West. It’s got everything – and I mean everything – except those little swinging doors, and they weren’t missed in a production full of circus tricks and manoeuvres galore but completely devoid of freakish clowns. Proceedings were punctuated by some excellent sound effects, which the receptive opening night audience lapped up, appreciating the light humour the production intended.
This isn’t the first circus company from Quebec to enjoy a residency on the London stage. As with other contemporary circus groups, scenes build and build, and the feats performed become more spectacular as the performance goes on. And why would it be any other way? It’s a winning formula, and the alternative would simply be anti-climactic. There is a storyline, the details of which are helpfully fleshed out in a page-long, scene-by-scene synopsis in the programme. I would have struggled to understand it without the notes provided. But, ultimately, it is really quite secondary to the demonstration of some tremendous dancing ability.
There are few surprises, though this doesn’t mean there aren’t any at all. The first surprise was an early scene in which a country song is played, complete with guitar and banjo, with characters sat around what could be reasonably assumed to be a campfire: there is no choreography worth commenting on in that scene because there is no choreography in the first place. Yes, it fitted the Wild West theme, but it was still odd to witness. Far more pleasantly, the other surprise was the convincing depiction of a steam train, without video projection or elaborate staging.
There were some pulsating rhythms to be enjoyed. Clearly not all Western tunes are melancholy and reflective. They might, as the oft-repeated joke suggests, have been playing some of the songs backwards. (What happens when you play a country song backwards? You get your girl back, you get your truck back, you may even get your dog back.) The production may be a little too sentimental in places, even unrealistic – a more believable ending is eschewed in favour of a celebratory one, like something out of John Gay’s eighteenth-century ballad play The Beggar’s Opera, in which a man condemned to die is given a reprieve, simply because it is believed that the audience would prefer a
Each member of the company gets their chance to shine. Perhaps I am getting too cynical, but I found it laughable, for instance, that someone would find it easier to juggle six pins than four. Elsewhere, it’s extraordinary what can be achieved by one man with a hat, and I never would have thought I would have so much fun watching members of the company take it in turns to jump off either end of what is apparently called a Korean plank. The sequence gave a new meaning to the term ‘dance off’. Some very masterful movement from Shena Tschoften, in full control of a Cyr wheel (named for Daniel Cyr, co-founder of Cirque Éloize), proved to be the stand-out scene for me.
As the action wasn’t relentless, it also wasn’t exhausting. There was also a rare occasion when I actually enjoyed a slow-motion sequence, used here for genuinely amusing comic effect. The anarchy and violence one might expect from a show set in the Wild West wasn’t as evident as it could have been. So what? It was an enjoyable evening, and a fellow audience member went so far to say she preferred Cirque Éloize to Cirque du Soleil: high praise indeed. All things considered, Saloon is a satisfying and sophisticated production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Saddle up for a journey to the Wild West as a world leader in contemporary circus, Cirque Éloize, blasts back into the West End with the UK Premiere of its new show. Inspired by the rich legacy of the Wild West, Saloon showcases the company’s trademark blend of spectacular circus and drama to create the colourful characters swinging through the saloon doors.
Directed by Emmanuel Guillaume, Saloon thrums with infectious energy and phenomenal physical feats as the 11 extraordinary cast members perform a theatrical thrill-ride. With a soundtrack of non-stop live folk and country music, from Patsy Cline to Johnny Cash, and original compositions by celebrated Canadian composer Éloi Painchaud, the production is a foot-stomping, lasso-throwing night of entertainment.
This creation marks the first collaboration between Cirque Éloize and the show’s musical director, Eloi Painchaud. Staying close to the musical roots of the director, Saloon mixes country extracts with more festive, folk-inspired compositions. There are three musicians and singers on stage, and all the artists sing or play instruments.
Cirque Éloize has become a world leader in contemporary circus since the company was founded in 1993 by artistic director, and Eloi’s cousin, Jeannot Painchaud. The company specializes in creating shows that fuse circus arts with music, theatre and dance.
Sadler’s Wells’ The Peacock, 4 – 21 October 2017