Director: Neil Dorward
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Circus 1903 makes a triumphant return to the Royal Festival Hall and, featuring new acts, proves to be even more exciting than last year. There are enough thrills and spills for everyone.
After what seemed a revival of the circus in 2018, this year has been relatively quiet for acrobats and tightrope walkers. But with the market less crowded, Circus 1903 shines brighter than ever before. Presenting acts from all over the world, the evening is impressively slick and every routine is precisely choreographed with lights and music. Fitting right at home on the Festival Hall’s stage, circus has never seemed so theatrical.
Returning to lead proceedings is Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade (David Williamson), whose magic tricks and banter fill in the gaps between the acts. These interludes are always very funny, and his extended routine, The Training of Wild Animals – exactly the same as last year – still remains one of the highlights of the evening, and his gruff dealings with the children in the audience are a delight.
Other returnees include the ‘juggling juggernaut’ The Great Gaston, who dazzles with his displays, and, of course, the puppet life-size elephants, looking eerily real in Paul Smith’s shadowy lights. They evoke the heyday of circus, at its peak in 1903, when Barnum returned to The States after completing his European tour. The puppeteers elicit gasps from the audience in probably the same way real elephants did in the early 20th Century. Here the elephants are loved by the humans in the circus, but history was less kind.
There are plenty of new acts, too, with many of them bringing a real sense of danger to their performances. The aerial artistry of The Flying Fredonis is spectacular, and there are no safety nets or wires, meaning there is no room for mistakes for the Ukrainian couple Daria Shelest and Vadym Pankevych, who catch each other while flying high above the stage. The Magnificent Marvellos also dice with death in their extraordinary routine which sees two men running in what could be described as spinning hamster wheels rotating high in the air. The men from Colombia then up the ante by running on top of the wheels, bringing screams from the audience. It’s hair-raising stuff.
The acts come thick and fast, with balancing acts by Russian Natalia Leontieva (on a ball) and by Cuban Rokardy Rodriguez (on a ladder). There’s a contortionist (here called a ‘dislocationist’) from Ethiopia, cheeky tumbling from the Brazilian troupe The Daring Desafios and some rapid human foot-juggling by the Mongolian The Remarkable Risleys. There really isn’t a dull moment, and Evan Jolly’s music provides the perfect complement to each performance.
While Circus 1903 succeeds in bringing back glamour and excitement to the genre, the tickets are not, unfortunately, at 1903 prices. Front stall seats, which really do give the best view, cost £99.50, perhaps more hair-raising than The Magnificent Marvellos.
Runs until 5 January 2020 | Image: Contributed