Ever dreamed of running away to the circus? This brilliantly quirky, not-to-be missed summer family outing will revive all your fantasies.
“I held the jewel of my childhood up to my eye, and through it I saw ponies and a dressing-up box and a tent, and that was Giffords Circus.” I love this quote by Nell Gifford about how she came up with the concept of her village green circus, which she started with her husband Toti back in 2000. My first Giffords experience was a couple of shows ago and I was literally transported to another world. I’d previously been something of a circus sceptic, but Giffords takes the genre to the next level with its conjuring of an exotic and nostalgic world of trapeze artists, stunt riders, gymnasts, opera singers, dancers et al, who make you feel like penning a letter of resignation, putting your house up for sale and running off with the nomadic band of performers to live the kind of life you’d dreamed you’d live when you were a kid. In fact, the show should come with a warning that it may encourage kids and adults alike to run away from home and join the circus.
This year the fantastical show rocks up in a 17th-century Spanish court kicking off with flamenco dancers (I want their dresses) and a couple of moustachioed comedy gymnasts (I want their moves).
The band, dressed as Spanish conquistadors, play their usual mash-up of jazz, pop and psychedelic rock (check out the organist – Ray Manzarek eat your heart out) and are joined by an opera singer, who does a great rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Blondie’s Call Me.
There seem to be quite a few new acts this year – Danny (pictured above), a handsome, breakdancing juggler for one (I think I’d have remembered him, if you know what I mean) and Sergei, the Cossack trapeze artist. If you weren’t sure how many different muscles there are in the male torso, you will do after watching the bendy, half-clad Ukrainian twist himself round ropes into extraordinary shapes not usually known to man. And don’t worry ladies, there’s a double dose of Sergei if you did miss any, as he returns in the second act to balance on a grand piano to the strains of opera. (No pictures I’m afraid, you’ll just have to go and see for yourself!)
Also on the bill are a Cuban troupe of acrobats who perform dizzying somersaults into the air from a swing contraption that looks like it was made by a 12 year old, an Austro Hungarian jockey who rides astride two ponies, statuesque horses with dancing feet, misbehaving bantam chickens, a bad-tempered dwarf who becomes a mermaid, and, of course, everybody’s favourite clown Tweedy, who performs his usual, off-the-wall physical comedy, including knife-juggling with a member of the audience (if you’re shy, don’t sit at the front for God’s sake), and improvises brilliantly when things don’t go to plan; ie, the chickens on the night I went, who refused to walk round the ring. And before the finale he leads a hilarious parody of the whole show that includes cross-dressing flamenco dancers and inflatable dolls.
It’s a total blast for adults and kids – my mudlet abandoned me for a gang of friends, so I ended up sitting on the opposite side of the ring from her and so could enjoy watching her gasps and hoots of delight throughout the show. It can be a bit pricey if you have a gaggle of offspring in tow, but ticket prices do vary depending on time, day of the week and venue, and children under three are free if they sit on a lap. The cheapest tickets are £15 for an adult, £10 for a child; the most expensive, £30 for adults, £20 for kids. The latter are the London dates though, so, hey, you can just catch a show nearer to home at the various venues around Gloucestershire. It also travels to Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, and is on until September, so plenty of time to get a date in the diary.
And if you’re thinking in for a penny, in for a hundred pounds, you can book into the pop-up restaurant, Circus Sauce, which serves up a set, three-course menu of hearty fare – think lamb hotpots, fish pies, Eton mess and treacle pudding – for £30, £20 for children, after the last evening performance. There’s a lot of tempting merch for sale, too, including specially designed mugs by Emma Bridgewater (who is Nell Gifford’s sister), hoodies, posters, jewellery and stationery, so be prepared to flex the credit card.