AUDACIOUS MR ASTLEY illuminates the art-form of Circus at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
After graduating from East 15 Acting School back in the early 70s, I took ‘fill-in’ work with a travelling circus and loved the life. The circus asked me to be ringmaster, a job I’ve done with many circuses here and in Europe for over 40 years, including several years touring the UK with the Moscow State Circus, and also a 15-year stint in France every Christmas working in French.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
I have a life-long interest in history, including the history of the circus. In 1986 I researched and pinpointed the exact site of the first circus show in Lambeth, London. For this year’s 250th Anniversary of that 1768 event, I’ve written my own one-man play using my acting skills and my circus background and knowledge. So I’m writing and performing from a unique viewpoint as a member of the Classical circus community. I bring the ‘father of the modern circus’ Philip Astley back to life to tell his own rumbustious story.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
It’s taken a year to write and produce, but the research began in 1973! 2018 is @Circus250, the 250th Anniversary of the first performance which led to the development of the circus. Lots of myths have grown up about the history; I put them right in (I hope and believe!) an entertaining way. Instructive fun!
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Be organised. Keep dry. Get enough sleep!
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Being knocked down as I announced a performing dog act in a circus – the enthusiastic dogs bounded in from behind me and one jumped up and hit me just behind the knees, which gave way!
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Joan Littlewood – her work at Theatre Workshop / Stratford East transformed theatre from stylised posing to truthful representation of the character and the story.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Checking and checking and checking again.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
So much to choose from! One-person shows, to see what others do with the form. Witty comedy. Physical comedy, akin to circus clowning.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the Fringe?
The circus is central to popular culture. It takes many forms now, but Philip Astley was the root of it all. Meeting him in person in my show illuminates the art-form and explains why we do what we do.
Audacious Mr Astley plays at the Pleasance Courtyard 1 to 27 August.