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Circus 1903 at the Eventim Apollo

Valeri Lyubchev Tsvetkov and Yani Kostov Stoyanov (Stong Men) - Circus 1903 (2022) - Photo Credit Nick Rutter.
Valeri Lyubchev Tsvetkov and Yani Kostov Stoyanov (Stong Men) – Circus 1903 (2022) – Photo Credit Nick Rutter.

I never went to the Eventim Apollo when it was a cinema and called the Gaumont Palace but have been there lots of times when it was the Hammersmith Odeon to see gigs and over the years I’ve seen the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Tina Turner and many, many more. I even saw a full theatrical performance of Dr Dolittle starring Phillip Schofield in 1998 but I’ve never seen a circus there until this week when I went to see Circus 1903.

The premise of Circus 1903 is the recreation of the big circuses that toured the USA for many years put on by the likes of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and like circuses in this country took place in big tops with sawdust strewn floors but those days are over hence Circus 1903 decamping indoors into venues such as its present home in Hammersmith.

The show starts with a big bang – literally as a group of muscled workmen bang stakes into the floor as they start to build the circus arena. With the use of some creative lighting, smoke and big orchestral music, the show starts and the stage is a swirling, twirling mass of bodies as the excitement builds – as the programme states it’s the ”Building Of The Canvas City” and the audience is transported back to somewhere in small town America in 1903 – the circus has come to town.

During that first half, there are a number of acts including The Daring Desafios, four acrobats leaping high into the air using a see-saw, The Rolling Rodriguez who balances precariously on what looks like large baked bean tins, The Wizard Of The World who does amazing stunts on a bicycle, a contortionist who does things with her body that make it look as it’s made of rubber and Lucky Moon who swings high in the air on a hoop with the audience holding their breath as she grips on with just her toes.

The show is held together by the engaging Willie Whipsnade who is in fact the award-winning magician David Williamson who not only does magic tricks in the audience before the show starts, introduces the acts and also performs as a sideshow barker. His dry wit is always entertaining and he’s a delight when he brings some children up on the stage to perform some magic with a balloon elephant. But that’s not the only elephant on stage as there are two puppets – one a full-size adult and the other Peanut, a baby elephant who is a major part of one of Williamson’s tricks. The first half ends with Willie Whipsnade transitioning from sideshow barker into a ringmaster via a quick costume change (amazing what you can with Velcro) as we were still metaphorically outside the big top and the circus hadn’t actually started.

After the interval, however, it all got a bit dull and prosaic. The energy from the first half had dissipated and then after a parade of all the acts, we got a succession of old-fashioned, ordinary variety acts including a juggler, acrobats, strong men and others, some of whom weren’t exactly on their game – it reminded me of a bad episode of Sunday Night At The London Palladium back in the day. The action also slowed down when ‘Willie’ got some kids up on the stage to do a card trick and whilst the kids in the audience lapped it up, it did go on for a long time – so much so that one little ‘volunteer’ had enough and ran off the stage and back to his parents!

The problem with Circus 1903 is that it’s all a bit old school which of course might be the point and is aiming to plug into our love of things and times gone by although in this case, it’s America’s past and not ours. Things have moved on in the world of circus with shows such as Cirque du Soleil, La Clique and others and Circus 1903 feels a little outdated for the twenty-first century. However, the audience, especially the younger element loved it and I guess that’s the most important thing.

3 Star Review

Review by Alan Fitter

Circus 1903 will astound, captivate, and transport audiences of all ages to the mesmerising Golden Age of circus. Hosted by the charismatic ringmaster David Williamson, Circus 1903 will feature many of the other incredible acts from previous years, with some brand-new acts to astound and excite audiences this festive season.

Joining the troop this year will be new acts, Strong Men, Yani Stoyanov and Valeri Tsvetkov performing power lift acrobatics with lyra performer, Sabrina Aganier on hoops and incredible contortionist, Senayet Asefa Amare returning from previous years.

They star alongside beloved returning acts such as the Teeterboard, Juggler Noel Landa and the Rola Bola and many more including the life size elephant puppets Queenie and Peanut.

Ringmaster – David Williamson
Acrobatic Bicycle – David Schnabel
Contortionist – Senayet Asefa Amare
Icarian Games – Mikiale Gebrekidan and Temesegene Geberetnsaa
Juggler – Noel Landa
Lyra – Sabrina Aganier
Rola Bola – Keniel Rodríguez Mesa and Samantha Roxy Montes de Oca
Russian Bar – Tymofii Chemko, Oleksii Balakhchy and Hryhorii Koptiev
Strong Men – Yani Stoyanov and Valeri Tsvetkov
Teeterboard Daniel Aguilar, Ronan Jenkinson, Mads Ludvigsen and Dmytro Sobakar
Elephant ‘Queenie and Peanut’ Puppeteers – Amelie Leroy, James Donovan, Jamie Morgan, Mikey Brett and Tom Norman


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