Home » London Theatre Reviews » Giffords Circus – Avalon at Chiswick House and Gardens | Review

Giffords Circus – Avalon at Chiswick House and Gardens | Review

I hadn’t been to a Giffords Circus (there is not, and never has been, any apostrophes in the name – it is neither Gifford’s Circus nor Giffords’ Circus) show before, so had no idea what to expect, aside from circus acts aplenty, which the show delivered. There’s an attempt at a narrative arc, complete with sets of rhyming couplets and medieval-esque vocabulary delivered by Guinevere (Nell O’Hara), although this seemed to be abandoned in the second half. Frankly, it ought to have been abandoned in the first as well. While it was beautiful to listen to – I rather liked how ‘no flash photography’ translated as, “Shun ye the flash, lest ye disturb the peace” – people don’t generally go to the circus to listen to chunks of spoken word, and I found myself waiting patiently for the monologues to end. I trust it isn’t too demanding to want circus performances… at the circus.

American clown Tyler West flies high in Giffords Circus - Avalon. Photo credit Emily Jo West.
American clown Tyler West flies high in Giffords Circus – Avalon. Photo credit Emily Jo West.

Giffords Circus seem comfortable not overdoing it with encouragements for the audience to participate. I often wonder if hosts at certain other circus companies are either lying or in need of a hearing test, or both, when they almost incessantly call for more noise, claiming not to be able to hear an evidently raucous audience. None of that here – this is a show that believes cheering and applause should be earned rather than forcibly extracted. On balance, the positive audience response was very much justified.

As ever, sit in the front row at one’s own risk: on the London press night, front row patrons evidently enjoyed participating with enthusiasm. I wonder if there are nights when ‘volunteers’ (inverted commas mine) are not so willing. The Camelot theme was well expressed through the production’s costumes, and to a lesser extent through the music, although the song choices were sometimes drawn from chart music, well within living memory. But they have been repurposed and reorchestrated. I couldn’t, on occasion, quite make out what was being sung, which is a rather negligible concern as the music was, essentially, accompanying the circus acts, and in the end, it is live music – played by what the programme calls ‘The Giffords Circus Band’ and introduced to the audience as ‘the orchestra’. I will leave it to the production to determine which is the correct term, or indeed if they consider them to be interchangeable. (Believe it or not, this really has been a bone of contention elsewhere before.)

There’s a pony in one scene and four dogs in another. The circus industry in general has a poor reputation when it comes to animal welfare, though I hasten to add I have not been able to find any specific examples of mistreatment at Giffords Circus, and to the naked eye, there were no visible signs of distress. Still, it was a surprise to me to see animals at the circus in 2024, and while the dogs in particular displayed considerable skill in completing various obstacle courses placed before them, I wasn’t entirely at ease, and truth be told, I didn’t think the inclusion of live animals was strictly necessary, especially as I couldn’t determine what the dogs had to do with Camelot, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

There are, mind you, plenty of redeeming features: Morgan Barbour and Victoria Sejr, as Isolde and Enid, ‘Damsels of the Ring’, grip an aerial hoop with their teeth, to the point where one set of gnashers supported both body weights. Tyler West’s Cuthbert, the show’s clown, had a good rapport with the audience. Dylan Medini stole the show for me, in an almost absurd solo balancing act. The final moments felt a bit like a jukebox musical, with an ‘everybody altogether’ feel as a megamix and an encore ended with what the football world would call a pitch invasion.

It’s the circus! What was I supposed to expect, misery? It’s the kind of rich, light entertainment needed in the rather depressing world in which we live.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Maximiliano Stia – Magician
Nell O’Hara – Actor and Singer
Tyler West – Clown
Nick Hodge – Cyr Wheel and Rope
Dylan and Asia Medini – Roller Skating, Rola Bola and Hula Hoop
Pat Clarrison and Pip Ashley – Comedy Dog Act
Latoya Donnert – Equestrian, act trained by her father Gabi Donnert
Morgan Barbour and Victoria Sejr – Aerial Hoop
Dany Rivelino – Clown
Sita Rivelino – Clown
The Godfathers: Andriy Moskva, Nikita Ostrovskyi, Serhii Niemtsev, Volodymyr Potaychuk – Hand Balance and Vaulting
Denise Denyer – Groom

Cal McCrystal – Writer and Director
Stuart Winter – Associate Director
takis – Production and Costume Designer
James Keay – Musical Director
Kate Smyth – Choreographer
Emma Campbell – Assistant Choreographer
Ian Scott – Lighting Designer
James Marsh – Sound Designer

Avalon is a show that will immerse the audience in a colourful medieval world of pageantry and Arthurian legend, with lavish costumes, an opulent set, and a live band all conjured up by award-winning internationally acclaimed performance designer takis, whose innovative and diverse body of work encompasses West End and leading UK theatre.

Giffords Circus presents
Chiswick House and Gardens
6 to 23 June 2024, then touring to 29 September 2024


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