Rouge promises to be a ‘circus for adults’, and it certainly delivers.
Circus acrobatics are the focus, though they are appropriately sexed-up and accompanied by the occasional burlesque act. The acrobatics are for the most part very impressive. I was particularly wowed by the trapeze and Cyr wheel acts, though the fire-eating could have done with a little more panache. Where Rouge really stakes its USP is in some creative and funny scenes which place impressive stunts in unconventional scenarios. In one particularly memorable scene, three BDSM unicorns trot around the stage as a whip-cracking dominatrix beheads roses as they’re presented to her. Another skit which is likely to stick in the audience’s minds involves a lampshade, some hula hoops, and not much else.
Much of the show’s élan rested on the personalities of the performers. The appeal of toned bodies doing cartwheels being flung around a stage begins to flag if the acrobats have all the personal appeal of a damp sponge. Luckily, the performers exuded charm. A puckish MC appropriately hypes up the audience as the show begins, and even those performers who stay mute throughout manage to delight and enchant; no mean feat given they spend much of the show gyrating several feet in the air.
The stunts had the audience gripped. I came to see death-defying stunt-work and I got it. From my view at the front of the stage I was able to get a pretty good glimpse of the rest of the audience, whose reactions probably sell the show as much as any review. Heads were transfixed, eyes were agape; some were gnawing their fists for some of the most thrilling spectacles. There isn’t much of a plot linking the individual segments, but the changes are pretty choppy and do little to hurt the show’s momentum.
There were one or two aspects which elevated Rouge further. The inclusion of a highly talented songstress who belts out standards from Puccini to Norah Jones, sometimes whilst performing stunts herself, certainly ups the ante of certain scenes. I should also mention the venue, which was excellent—not to mention beautifully lit. Assembly have made the most of the New College’s beautifully ornate lecture hall. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to chuckle at the irony of the university’s divinity school being commandeered for such unrestrained debauchery.
As a final point, the show could have done with a grand finale, instead ending rather abruptly. Given the tenor of some of the acts I was expecting something quite spectacular to conclude proceedings, so was a little disappointed not to get it. That said, Rouge didn’t fail to impress overall. If you’re into watching scantily-clad acrobats being hurled into the air, and don’t mind seeing a carrot being wielded as a strap-on (read: ’circus for adults’), then you’ll be in for an excellent evening.
Rouge, Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 22:20 (1hr), Aug 3-21
Press Images provided by the production company