REVIEW: Kooza (Royal Albert Hall) ★★★★★

The Royal Albert Hall has transformed into a zany, hypnotic and, quite simply extraordinary kingdom called Kooza!

The shows opens with an Innocent Clown who stumbles aimlessly on stage with his kite that never quite gets off the ground. He encounters the Trickster Clown, a confident and athletic man who back flips up and down the stage, exposing the naive clown to sights he’s never seen before. Bubbling up from thin air appears a giant high kingdom of court jesters, flexible patrons, fearless acrobats, and a full band. One after another, a variety of the most impressive, super-human skilled circus sets emerge from the kingdom and take to the stage to amaze us.

In essence, Kooza is a sneak peak into a clown’s self-discovery. Not much of this journey is really shown, but it’s there. The only real story line lies between the Innocent and Trickster clown; although, in all honesty, the Royal Albert Hall isn’t packed with people who want to see a story: we want to see the circus! And a circus is exactly what we got!

Each act is beyond impressive. The performers relentlessly push the boundaries of what the human body could do. You can’t not be amazed.

It’s almost like Cirque du Soleil have a policy to make everything as nearly impossible as possible. In Kooza, nothing is a simple as walking on a tight rope. They make it more exciting and add skipping ropes, swords, and chairs, and hell, why not, let’s put them on bicycles and then stack one guy on top of their shoulders sitting on a chair! At one point, one guy slipped and caught himself just like you see in the movies when someone is hanging off a ledge by just their hands. But these guys show zero struggle getting back on their feet. They fling themselves up and over and, voila, they’re back on an inch of wire, and jumping over their partner’s head and they land. Easy as that. And we clap uproariously!

Of all of the acts, nothing quite matched the Wheel of Death. Beast like men take opposing giant wheels that are fixed together by an axis. The wheels rotate like one you’d find in a hamster cage, but they also rotate around the axis, going from the floor of the stage to 50 odd feet in the air. By this point in the night, we know what to expect: something amazing, and something dangerous! These two men, without harness, without safety net, taunt the rules of physics as they run forward, backward and outside the spinning wheel. They soar through the air and land on the moving wheel at just the right moment.

Needless to say, Kooza endlessly enthralls its audience with performers who are fearless, precise, charismatic and extraordinarily athletic. Whether the mistakes are choreographed or not, they’re almost necessary. The mess ups make you appreciate their talent even more. It snaps us out of the trance that comes with seeing something near impossible. So when a hoola hoop falls on a foot, or a leg looses balance, or a whole body flies face first towards a spinning wheel of death, we snap out of it and go, “AH! They’re real!” We appreciate them more for being human. Because, that…. that is more impressive.

The live band and vocalist that accompany every single second of the show are also outstanding. The vocals of the two women, I have to say, were out of this world. And the band, especially the drummer, focus intently on the acts, cueing their drum roll and cymbal smash to each finale of every trick.

David Shiner, Creator and Director of Kooza, mentions in the programme: “I wanted to create a world which would reveal the interior life of the clown, in essence, this would be the world of his hope, innocence, fear, solitude, joy and above all, his love.” I think Shiner’s show reaches in that direction, but I don’t think all of that surfaces to the stage. Kooza doesn’t really soar as a story; the story doesn’t take the lead, but the acrobats do! And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what makes it a circus and not theatre.

At the end of the show, we see the Innocent Clown bestowed with the crown of the King. The kingdom disappears, the Trickster is out of sight and the lights fade as the Innocent Clown’s kite flies high in the sky.

What these performers do is thrilling and spell-bounding, not to mention physically and mentally tiring. In essence, I felt like I got to watch the Olympics, but the athletes wore better, sparklier, outfits. The music, set and lights, gave us the atmosphere, the clowns gave us the commentary, and the performers gave us the gold. Solid gold.