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Giffords Circus 2023 Tour – ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’

My wife and I got fabulously lost on our way to Giffords Circus. We were not alone in this, and by the time we ran the thing to ground we had asked at least four strangers for directions. They too were looking for it, and between us, we managed to stray even further into the unsignposted glories of Chiswick House’s enormous rus in urbe gardens.

Tweedy the Pierrot in Giffords Circus Les Enfants du Paradis (c) Rachel Louise Brown 2023.
Tweedy the Pierrot in Giffords Circus Les Enfants du Paradis (c) Rachel Louise Brown 2023.

Then suddenly, as if by some cartographical sleight of hand, there it was: the distinctive burgundy-coloured Giffords trailers forming a rough circle around the Big Top, a vast circus tent like they used to make them. There were two dozen or so of these vehicles, each with its designated role of storage, lodging, toilet, ticket office, press desk and gourmet pancake outlet. A huge travelling community parked up for the duration. High-end gypsies in the shadow of the Big House.

The great selling point of the Giffords operation is its ability to carry you back into a slightly indefinable age of innocence – rather postwar, something of The Railway Children. All of which belies the steely professionalism and high technology at the heart of the thing.

It was started by a driven young woman called Nell Stroud, a graduate in English from New College, Oxford and her fiancé Toti Gifford, a Gloucestershire farmer’s son. She had already done the literal business of running away to the profession by working for Circus Flora in the US and, after leaving university, joining Circus Roncalli in Germany.

There’s an unashamed – in fact a rather triumphant – nostalgia in Giffords’ presentation of the traditional circus skills: the Pierrot-esque clown, the tumbling, tightroping, trapezing and hoop-jumping, all supported by a full-blooded rock’n’roll band like they used to make them – only better.

There’s also a dreadful poignancy in the whole operation, as Nell Gifford died of breast cancer four years ago at the age of forty-six. After learning that the spread of the illness left her with just one year to live, she virtually commuted between hospital and the circus. Just months before her death, with a big blond wig over her cropped hair, she performed on horseback in the summer show.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the circus bearing her and her husband’s name is the simplicity at the heart of their vision. Yes, it’s a massive operation, with the total of artistes, admin, circus band, front-of-house, costume etc pushing two hundred, but the acts themselves have their own stamp of eccentric intimacy. None more so than the illusionist – shadow-player and lanternist, to accord him his full credits – Sergei Buka, whose shifting hand-shapes, projected onto a screen, form extraordinary images of creatures and landscapes. This is a masterpiece of digitalism in the word’s old sense, and the gasps it draws from the surrounding audience are no less awed than those greeting Alex Michael’s almost unwatchable Trapeze and Sky Walk.

Tweedy the Clown is a sort-of throwback motif, coming and going throughout the show’s two-hour duration, while Antony Cesar’s aerial strap routine comes as close to flying as humans will ever get without wings.

Us lot – the audience – get our moment in the sun by taking over the ring. Imagine a pitch-invasion at a small but jam-packed soccer ground and you get the picture. Except that here is a licensed occupation, encouraged by the cast. This is Big Top entertainment like they used to make it in those now-remote heydays of such names as Bertram Mills and Chipperfield. Only better, to tell the truth.

5 Star Rating

Review by Alan Franks

New acts for Les Enfants du Paradis include:

Antony Cesar, an exciting 20-year-old aerialist who won the golden buzzer on ‘France’s Got Talent’ in 2020. Antony’s parents are artistes Pat Bradford and Kate Smyth who appeared in early Giffords Circus shows with their hand-balancing act, Kate is also Giffords Circus choreographer.

Also starring in Les Enfants du Paradis:

Sergi Buka, an amazing illusionist, shadow artist and lanternist who will perform a poetic Chinese shadow act.

The Skating Medini (Asia and Dylan Medini) – a dynamic high-speed roller-skating act from one of Italy’s oldest circus families.

Amanda Sandow with her beautiful liberty pony act.

Foot juggling and aerialist artistes Romy and Alex Michael.

The Luna Girls – aerial hoop duo Marina Alvarado de Luna and Markia Ashley Gould.

The Ethio-selam Troupe, a very exciting Ethiopian acrobatic troupe, who will perform the double Chinese pole. The Ethio-selam Troupe are managed by Bibi and Bichu,
Giffords alumni and jugglers who appeared in more than 10 Giffords Circus shows and were adored members of the circus, so it’s heart-warming to have them back.

Tickets are on sale now for all grounds and further information about Les Enfants du Paradis can be found at:

http://www.giffordscircus.com/

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Author

  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.com

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