REVIEW: MY BEAUTIFUL CIRCUS (Chiswick House & Gardens Trust Gifford Circus) ★★★★

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the invention of the circus, Gifford Circus sets their artistry to a 1930s theme, spanning hits from the era and sequinned dresses alike. The troupe pulls out all stops for this anniversary show with a brand-new tent, red velvet cushy seating and repainted wagons. “My Beautiful Circus” indeed.

The experience starts long before the first act begins and doesn’t end after the big finale. Tinkling circus music greets the guests who wander through the awe-inspiring Chiswick Gardens into a field lined by wagons offering candyfloss, souvenirs and pizza. The stars of the show saunter through the crowds, including clown Tweedy and his pet iron, as well as the ever-present burgundy clad showgirls. Gifford Circus’ own restaurant, Circus Sauce, is a spectacle in itself – fine dining at a ‘fair field’? They make it possible.

It’s a fashionable and lovingly orchestrated affair, so it is no wonder why celebrities such as Jennifer Saunders, Viviane Westwood, Anna Friel and Stella McCartney make appearances. Cal McCrystal resumes his role as director; albeit not officially the ringmaster, it is mostly Nancy Trotter Landry who leads through the show. Every act is accompanied by her vocals, and she features in a good number of slapstick moments herself, as well as stealing the spotlight to sing a duet with her talking turkey. “My Beautiful Circus” wouldn’t be the same without her facial expressions and much-mentioned ‘saucer eyes’.

Tweedy the Clown (refreshingly without the creepy makeup and red nose shtick) is a fan-favourite and takes over the show more than once, whether that may be during his comedy routines or upstaging a fellow artist at their chosen profession. Circus-founder Nell Gifford’s ponies are an adorable highlight but soon have to compete against the almost even more adorable dancing Dachshunds which are an unexpected delight.

New to the line-up are the Curatola Brothers with their fantastic acrobatics and comedy, and the amazing Cretu Troupe known for their springboard tricks. Cuban Lisandra Austin takes audience’s breath away with her performance on the silks. Most spectacular by far are the Dias family whose acrobatic and balancing tricks defy description. Gifford Circus isn’t one for the death-defying routines, but rather an intimate family show and there is a strong vibe of fans visiting the shows year after year, having grown to love the established characters and the light-hearted atmosphere. Doing some research, it seems that Gifford Circus are the masters of themed extravaganzas, may it be Greek Myths or a 17th Century Spanish port – in that sense only it’s almost a shame to see a performance that is ‘only’ 30’s themed but bodes well for all the years to come.

Londoners have the chance to catch the travelling Gifford Circus at the lush Chiswick House & Gardens Trust until July 9th; after that they will continue their UK tour up to September 30th.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Gem Hall

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