Cirque du Soleil at the Macallan: What to expect from distillery 200th anniversary Spirit circus show

The travelling circus troupe are putting on quite a show at the Macallan distillery this month. Rosalind Erskine went along to see the dress rehearsal.

How do you make a Scotch whisky? Water, malted barley and yeast.

And how do you celebrate 200 years of making whisky? Create a totally immersive experience by teaming up with a world famous contemporary circus act.

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It’s hard to know what Alexander Reid - farmer, teacher and founder of the Macallan - would make of dancing thistles, a quest to find the exact red from a tartan, a sprite playing the bagpipes and a hilariously camp fox. But this is just a small snippet of what you can expect to see at the Cirque du Soleil show that’s in residency at the Macallan distillery.

The one-of-a-kind theatrical experience started on May 9 and will continue with global product launches. I was part of one of the first groups of people to see Cirque du SoleilSPIRIT, which runs until May 31 in a secret location within the Macallan estate. I can honestly say it’s like nothing you’ll have ever seen at a distillery before and you’re likely to forget you’re even in whisky-making territory.

The night starts within the Macallan’s state-of-the-art visitor centre, where you’ll meet some lab technicians, who will guide you to where the show will take place. The first half is based around a laboratory setting, and includes aerial silk, tightrope walking and acrobatics, all while the audience tries to help the main protagonist, Ayla, find a very specific colour of red - one that’s part of a piece of tartan. It’s here you’ll also be treated to a Macallan cocktail, served in a test tube, with a non-alcoholic version for the drivers.

The one-of-a-kind theatrical experience is inspired by the natural landscapes of the HighlandsThe one-of-a-kind theatrical experience is inspired by the natural landscapes of the Highlands
The one-of-a-kind theatrical experience is inspired by the natural landscapes of the Highlands

The action moves to another area, which has been created to represent nature, and includes hoop diving salmon, the bagpiping sprite, cyr wheel (from the fox), flamenco dancing - a nod to the distillery’s links to Spain and sherry casks, contortion and hair suspension. It’s both, at times, fascinating, but hard to watch.

At one point, with the tartan, bagpipes and Highland dancing thistles, I thought it all seemed a bit like Brigadoon on acid. It ends with Ayla reconnecting with nature - the point of the show and a link to the distillery location - and a lovely swap of the audience to the stage, to enjoy a dram of Macallan 12, located within a tree.

A complete assault on the senses, and what’s possible within circus acts, this is a first not just for the distillery, but for Cirque du Soleil, who don’t usually get this up close and personal with an audience. The performers only met a few weeks ago and have been assembled from the USA, UK, China, Spain, Canada, Finland, Malaysia, Cambodia and Africa. 

It’s genuinely an awe-inspiring experience you’ll not forget in a hurry. If it left the audience slightly speechless, imagine what Alexander Reid would have thought.

Tickets cost £200 per person. Find out more at the Macallan website.



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