Review: The Cirque Du Soleil Experience At The Macallan Whisky Estate

By Tessa Dunthorne

1 week ago

An unlikely source of incredible immersive theatre

The Macallan and Cirque Du Soleil have partnered together to put on SPIRIT, a death-defying, breathtaking circus and acrobatics show at the whisky estate. Oh, and it’s immersive. Tessa Dunthorne reviews the opening night with a dram in hand.

Review: Macallan & Cirque Du Soleil’s Immersive SPIRIT

What do luxury whisky house Macallan and Cirque du Soleil have in common? This would be a perfectly reasonable question to ask on the open of their joint venture, SPIRIT. And yet, by the time I leave the Scottish whisky estate (nursing a dram-induced headache), I think I get it. Quite a lot, it turns out. 

‘We wanted to tell stories,’ says Ruth Wylie, experiential lead at the Macallan, ‘We’d been talking to Cirque since 2019, and as we came to the Macallan’s 200th anniversary, we rekindled those conversations.’

Cirque Du Soleil SPIRIT with Macallan - show stills

And good thing they did – SPIRIT is a real treat. There’s a plot – loose, mind you – following Ayla who runs a lab and seeks the perfect red to remind her of her dad. The immersive experience runs as you enter an old cask warehouse that’s been completely transformed by the Cirque Du Soleil team. It’s bright, light and white, and the cast march around examining feathers, threads, liquids and lots of other red things (they encourage you to wear a touch of red, too, so they can examine you in their colour pursuit). They interact with you, set you on tasks, and then before you know it, people are doing flips, walking slack-lines and twirling ceiling high in silks.

The Macallan part of the deal is woven in deftly. Samples of red liquid are handed to you – these are whisky based cocktails – or you pluck them from set pieces within the show. The red Ayla seeks lines up with the brand’s red, and characters in the piece are based around animals and plants you’d find on the Macallan estate. It’s not in-your-face brand messaging – which allows the show to be spectacular and awe-inspiring like any good Cirque show should be. Just with better cocktails. 

Cirque Du Soleil SPIRIT with Macallan - show stills

‘[Immersive experiences] are a way to let people touch your brand. What audiences are not going into is, “here’s a history of Macallan through the eyes of Cirque du Soleil”, because that wouldn’t work for us or for them,’ says Ruth.

One of the most successful parts of the show is how it invites you to connect with nature. It takes you out of the lab in the second half, when the immersion (mostly) ends and the audience is invited to take a seat and watch some incredible acrobatic feats. But this second half is set in the bucolic Scottish highlands (presumed to be the Macallan estate), and characters are styled after foxes, sheep, heather – even fish. It’s probably in this that Macallan and Cirque du Soleil find their most common ground, extending beyond shared wish to tell stories. Both companies take vested interest in nature; the former through regenerative approach to the land and the latter through its art. It’s in complete earnest that both connect on this, with genuine feeling. The show is moving at points for this. The natural world guides scientist Ayla, taking her on a journey her experiments couldn’t. We’d all do well to go on our own natural journeys. 

Of course, there’s a whole series of biologically improbable and mind boggling circus acts along that journey for Ayla. 

So, what do the brands have in common? It turns out: an artistic flair, a penchant for nature, and, now, ownership of an impressive show that will continue to blow audiences away through May. A bonnie time: travel to the estate before SPIRIT by Cirque and Macallan closes, because this is the kind of immersive theatre that’d have Secret Cinema or Punchdrunk jealous.

Final Word

Breathtaking feats of acrobatism mixed with good whisky for a well-constructed piece of immersive theatre by Macallan and Cirque du Soleil.

Non-alcoholic cocktails are available throughout the experience. Book here, running until 31 May.