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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Nights at the Circus: Giffords Circus, Barrington

I had longed heard of Giffords Circus, and work gig that was (sort of) in the direction of their stint in Barrington, Oxfordshire gave me an opportunity to visit this 'vintage village green' circus. As you arrive their smartly covered vehicles are parked in a wide outer circle, with vintage-styled food, bars and souvenirs in an inner semi circle facing towards the big top.

As we entered into the Big Top the difference between this and a more traditional circus was apparent as the scenic design of a run-down 19th century theatre belies a more narrative themed circus in keeping with the its title, Les Enfants du Paradis, inspired by the 1945 film directed by Marcel Carné. The loose plot as narrated by Hugo Victor (Michael Fletcher) sees Clair de Lune (Nell O'Hara) falling in love with an enigmatic masked dancer/aerial strap artiste (Antonie Cesar), interspersed with the acts that would have once been performed in this abandoned theatre. This was the set up, but they don't really commit to this, but this a minor quibble.

With its thematic nod to Phantom of the Opera, the high quality circus acts were accompanied by an eclectic mix of songs from David Bowie, ELO and Michel Legrand to ABBA, Blondie and The Stranglers all performed by a live band and singers, this visual and aural feast! (You can listen to the spotify playlist here)

On the ground...

Tweedy the Clown was clearly an audience favourite, and his catch phrase was well known to the crowd as he's been performing with Giffords for 16 years. I'd seen him in Cirque Berserk some years ago at the Peacock Theatre, London. He had a number of solo turns as well as those with fellow clowns Dany Santos Silva and Sergi Buka.

Serge’s cycling shadowgraphy routine was innovative in its historic simplicity.

But the highlight was when all three clowns interrupted what at first appeared be a sincere musical performance of 'I Dreamed a Dream' by Michael Fletcher and Nell O'Hara.

The Skating Medinis, brother and sister Ash and Dylan, are fith generation circus performers from Italy, and their roller skating number was both thrilling and elegant. It's a shame they only had the one opportunity to showcase their skills.

It's been at least 30 years since I've seen a circus act involving animals, and I've not missed them. Much was made in the programme and on-line about how well-looked-after the miniature English ponies were by Amanda Sandow. And seeing them perform I can well believe it as they worked well together as a team. But there was something a little unsettling by seeing the ponies bow, kneel, trot in unison etc. Don’t feel the need to see more animals in a circus ring.

The highlight of the ground level acts, which reached into the roof of the Big Top, were Les Garcons Abyssinia from Ethiopia. They were a personable troupe of six gymnasts who in the first half performed on 'Chinese Poles' and in the second half 'Hoop Diving' both of which were a real testament to their charm, physical skills and teamwork.

In the air...

There were two acts that performed high-level acts, both of which had just the one opportunity to dazzle us with their daring and delightful routines.

Alex Michael performed a breath-taking routine combining trapeze and sky walking, the latter rarely performed - and I can see why!

Whilst Marika Ashley Gould and Marina Luna, as Aerial Luna, performed a beautiful aerial number which opened the show, and set a high standard for all those that would follow.

Giffords Circus was founded in 2000 by Nell Gifford and her husband Toti Gifford, who wanted to keep alive a different kind of touring circus experience. Sadly Nell Died in 2019 at the age of 46 but her and her husband's dream is being kept alive by dozens and dozens and passionate creative people, as this double page spread in the programme illustrates!

‘Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end.’ Nell Gifford


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