BWW Review: MY BEAUTIFUL CIRCUS, Chiswick House and Gardens

BWW Review: MY BEAUTIFUL CIRCUS, Chiswick House and Gardens

BWW Review: MY BEAUTIFUL CIRCUS, Chiswick House and GardensHas the extraordinary success of the feelgood movie, The Greatest Showman, given traditional circuses a shot in the arm? If the reception for Giffords' My Beautiful Circus is anything to go by, the answer is probably yes.

It's important to say first what this show isn't. It is not a Cirque du Soleil type extravaganza that needs the kind of space that the Albert Hall or Vegas resort hotels provide. Nor is it an anarchic postmodern tear-up (such as Archaos pioneered in the late 80s). Nor is it an ultra-orthodox production of the kind that the BBC would show on Christmas Day after Top of the Pops. It's actually a bit of all three.

Outside the new (and reassuringly very stable) tent, the kind of street food you're more likely to find in Shoreditch than Southend is available, and showgirls parade while doing front of house duties, while a band plays selections from Frozen and Despicable Me (2018 see?)

Inside, the set up is how it has been for centuries - the ring with an entrance at the back and us sitting in a horseshoe, nobody more than half a dozen rows or so from the action. We're encouraged to take photos and the kids were soon on their feet and shouting and dancing - a relaxed and relaxing performance, especially for those parents eyeing at the long stretch of the school holidays with some trepidation

Tweedy the Clown (or, rather, Tweedy the Man who does Clowning, as there's no Pennywise costume and face paint to scare the kids - and the adults) is the master of mischief throughout the 90 minutes or so of action. Blessed with physical comic skills (and plenty more) he forms an easy rapport with the audience and plays a mean bagpipe to boot!

Animal acts can be a controversial matter for circuses and it was, I confess, a surprise to see so many, from prancing ponies to a bucking broncho to dainty dachshunds to a trilling turkey. None were required to do anything too outrageous - though it all seems rather artificial and forced - and they enchanted the kids, so maybe we should leave it there. After all, they looked like they enjoyed and longer and more comfortable life than those creatures who provided the raw material for the burgers and nuggets outside and few people get as antsy about that...

The show goes for a 1920s look with lots of bias cut glittery dresses and flapper girl headwear (and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as a somewhat incongruous accompaniment to one act). It seems a little random, but it works as well as any other theme I suppose.

One major letdown is the sound quality - I could not make out any the of acts' names as they were announced and, in the absence of a programme (curious that) and any screens inside the tent, it was disappointing not to know more about the performers. The band, though very good, sounded a little mushy too - though acoustics under a PVC canopy may be a challenge.

The acts had plenty of pizzazz, though there was nothing truly original for anyone who has been to a circus or two in the past. Jugglers, balancing acts, tumblers and acrobats but nothing too frightening (I can do without men throwing knives at women these days). One lad had the look and the abilities of a young Tom Daley, twisting, somersaulting and balancing in an extraordinary display, very much the star of the show and an Olympian in the making!

That said this production isn't really about specificities, it's about a slightly old-fashioned (or traditional with the glass half full) show, updated for a 21st century public that demonstrates, once again, that all the TV spectaculars, the youtube clips and the baggage that comes with the word "circus" disappear in the glory that is live performance.

Gifford's My Beautiful Circus is at Chiswick House and Gardens until 9 July and subsequently on tour.

Photo Gem Hall.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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