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Review: Acrobats steal the Christmas show as The Snow Gorilla triumphs
Struggling circus owner Fanny Marigny (Joanne Heywood) opens the Rose Theatre’s Snow Gorilla with the lines: “This is our last chance. If we don’t get it right this year the circus is finished and the family we have built up will have to go to our separate ways.”
But this show – don’t call it a panto – is an absolute triumph. Your kids will be enthralled.
Brian Blessed’s voice brings the Snow Gorilla – kept hidden in publicity stills to avoid spoiling the wonderful surprise – to life.
Bad guy? Proud magician Erick is not all he seems
Erick the magician (Nicholas Maude in full cackling villain role) gives audiences something to boo at as part of a simple story line which is paper thin but touching.
You won’t believe that the slightly naif and over-earnest orphan Sunny (played by Ciaran Joyce) would hook his love interest Chloe (Lucy Hope-Borne) so easily although your children won’t care.
Actor Joanne Heywood on The Snow Gorilla
Tracey Beaker star Ciaran Joyce and Lucy Hope-Borne
But the show is stolen by the sheer skill and craft of the circus performers – jugglers, acrobats, a contortionist, flamenco dancers and aerial artists.
Sometimes plays at the Rose have felt closer to a school play, with a smallish band of loyal audiences willing the shows to be good.
But the undoubted ability of the circus stars in The Snow Gorilla draw dozens of wow moments as they earned their applause, ratcheting up the excitement in the room with each new trick.
Hat trick: trio of African acrobats enthrall the crowd
The infectious enthusiasm of the African Acrobats – Cryton Gavias, John Jaidi and Paul Hotey, spotted at the Kingston Christmas lights turn on in November - gets the crowd involved. Juggler Olexii Trunow doesn’t drop the ball (or balls).
The aerial acrobatics between Onna Degerman and Jordan Webb are stunning and beautiful with cheer upon cheer, matched only by the incredible and slightly eye-watering contortions of Gereltuya Ganbold.
We even have a Strictly Come Dancing Moment with a flamenco flourish from Silvia Veliz and Victor Lopez.
A word also for Max Humphries and team, and operator Dominic Leeder, who bring to life the anamatronic Mighty Gor - a beast with pathos and a nifty wiggle.
Keep an eye on Beppo the clown (Sam Parks) too.
There are a few, unncessary, risque jokes suggesting Fanny is what Terry Pratchett calls a lady of negotiable affection, but they will probably fly over the heads of the youngest.
The music is also great, strengthening the variety feel, and the songs catchy enough.
The show, a joint creation of the Rose and Bor Productions, has even added merchandise this year including cuddly toy gorillas, suggesting a more savvy approach to recouping costs, while ushers hand out balloons to children on the way out.
And yes, there is a nod to Christmas in the finale, with some comedy twists in the second half.
If director Roger Hannah hasn’t put on a panto, it sure feels like one. We even get a gorilla poo joke.
Some people will have seen it all before and think the Rose shouldn't be so unashamedly populist. But I say putting a snow gorilla and a few acrobats or dancers in every show - Ibsen on Ice? - couldn't do any harm.
As the story comes together one of the characters says: “Now we will see whether we have a chance or if we sell up and cut our losses”.
If a show this good, with genuine ‘watch it again’ appeal, can’t make bundles of money we may have our answer.
The Snow Gorilla, Rose Theatre, High Street, Kingston
Until Sunday, January 5
£9 - £28
Visit rosetheatrekingston.org or call 08444 821 556
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