Review: GIFFORDS CIRCUS: LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, Chiswick House and Gardens

This big top extravaganza runs until 19 June

By: Jun. 03, 2023
Review: GIFFORDS CIRCUS: LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, Chiswick House and Gardens

Review: GIFFORDS CIRCUS: LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, Chiswick House and Gardens National treasures Giffords Circus return for their annual tour of village greens and stately homes with another show, another theme and, it appears to be, another hit.

For the sixteenth time, Cal McCrystal (Mother Goose) is back on writing and directing duties. This time around, he takes the setting of the iconic 1945 movie Les enfants du paradis (children of the gods) as the show’s starting point, sending us and his performers back a couple of hundred years to 1820s Paris. Operatic costumes from world-class designer takis, a dancing Pierrot clown and cheeky character names (including Claire de Lune, Hugo Victor and Igor Beaver) all set the scene adding layers of charm to the signature Giffords family-friendly shenanigans.

Being in a big top comes with expectations and the bevy of high-flying acts do not let us down. Duo Aerial Luna superbly use a large hoop as a platform on which to perform some impressive acrobalance. Ballerina Marika Ashley Gould and partner Miana Luna create strong symmetrical shapes with both taking turns as base and flyer. Joining them up in the air are Alex Michael who expertly jumps from one trapeze to another and Antony Cesar (pictured) on the aerial straps. Each makes wonderful use of the tent’s great height to explore the space and – operating sans net and sans harness – add a delicious layer of danger.

There are some ground-based treats too. Giffords favourite Tweedy clowns in his inimical style, stealing the attention with outrageous japery and fine physical work. Another company veteran with over 16 years and now with a British Empire Medal to his name for services to circus and local community, his pantomime antics add a welcome burst of humour among the more eye-catching physicality. A sextet of African acrobats working under the catchy title of “The Ethio-Salem Hoop Diving And Chinese Pole Troupe” are very good value, whether shimmying up and down parallel poles or throwing themselves balletically through fixed hoops.

Romy Meggiolaro surprises us by bringing her foot-juggling routine to an aerial climax while Serge Buka’s wonderfully random shadow play is a welcome touch of whimsy. The spit-and-woodchip vibe of the venue brings a real ambience to proceedings. Horses were always an important part of co-founder Nell Gifford’s vision for this circus and this year are represented by four miniature English ponies led by Amanda Sandow. The live house band (titled “Quel Fromage” for this show) play out a jaunty selection of covers using a wide range of instruments and O’Hara’s powerful vocals.

As with last year’s Mexican-styled ¡Carpa!, McCrystal has thrown in some basic dramatic subplots and, as this is a theatre website, some readers may be verily champing at their bits to hear more about them. Tweedy is put out by the arrival of a new clown (Buka). He does everything he can to prove his worth and regain his place with the aid of the hilarious Igor Beaver (Dany Santos Silva); some hilarious water-based antics ensue. Meanwhile, Clair de Lune (Nell O’Hara) has her eye on a masked gentleman who flits in and out of the ring. Ringmaster Hugo Victor (Michael Fletcher) attempts to court her – an attempt not helped by Tweedy’s slapstick interventions. In the dramatic finale, Clair has her love requited as her paramour is revealed to be Antoine César (Cesar) who literally whisks her off her feet into the air.

The Occupation-era film which McCrystal took inspiration from is almost as famous for the challenging conditions under which it was made as for anything else and there’s something of that here. Founded in 2000 by Oxford graduate Nell and her husband Toti Gifford, the company suffered two tragic blows in short succession: Nell sadly died in December 2019 from cancer at the age of 46 and, a few months later, the pandemic forced them to postpone their planned Hooley show and instead stage a socially distanced experience. Going by this latest show, packed with talented international performers, Giffords (like that poor French film crew) have found a way through tragic circumstances to produce a piece of magic.

Giffords Circus’ Les Enfants du Paradis continues until 19 June.

Photo credit: Rachel Louise Brown


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