Last Updated on December 18, 2021
Roll up, Roll up for Circus 1903
The third Christmas season of Circus 1903 started yesterday and runs through to 2 January 2022. We last went back in 2018 and are truly thrilled to be seeing the latest amazing show, a cocktail of traditional ‘human’ circus acts and charming animal puppets all managed by the amazing Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade who just happens to be a rather talented magician.
Brilliant puppetry is transforming the stage of today – and Circus 1903 joins the likes of The Life of Pi and War Horse, with puppetry by the team who made the horse featured in War Horse – here, mother and baby elephants Queenie and Peanut charm audiences again. It’s an excellent way to bring some of the magic of traditional circus to the stage without the inherent animal cruelty. As a child, I can remember watching Thunderbirds on TV. My mother didn’t really approve (Blue Peter and Magic Roundabout were more her style) and I can remember her telling us that they were American. With the naivity of a six-year-old, I took that very literally and can remember being genuinely shocked when I met an American in real life – and was disappointed that they were nothing like Lady Penelope, Brains or Virgil Tracy. I wonder how many children in tonight’s audience will be as confused as I was if they eventually encounter a real-life elephant.
This is a show which will work brilliantly for children and still keep parents and grown-ups without smaller people in tow amused. Apart from the stunning puppetry, there are acts that somehow bring a level of humanity to Circus 1903 that you might not find at some of the larger shows. And that’s important. The audience is remarkably close to everything on stage and there’s no room for error. When something does go wrong, the audience is behind the performers and somehow it adds to the show.
It’s also impossible not to get sucked into the evening. The first half last night showcased stunning and original teeterboard acrobatics from the Daring Desafios, a quartet of Brazilian performers along with the legendary balancing act Rola Bola by ‘The Sensational Sozonov’ (performed by Russian artist Mikhail Sozonov), ‘The Cycling Cyclone’ (performed by German artist Florian Blummel) and ‘the Russian Bar’ performed by Ukraine trio Tymofii Chemko, Oleksii Balakhchy and Mykola Mykytchyn.
The highlight for me was the acrobatic act from The Flying Fredonis, Russian artists Daria Shelest and Vadym Pankevych, simply for the intensity of their performance
Then, there were the moments where Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade brought his own inimitable form of magic to the stage and captivated a few young assistants borrowed from the audience.
And of course, the point at which we met Queenie and Karanga (or Peanut). There are toy elephants for sale in the foyer for a reason. We all left wanting to take Peanut home with us. The puppet design is brilliant, as you’d expect from the auspicious team of puppet designers behind the two elephants. And, the on-stage performance is endearing and charismatic, particularly from Peanut (with the advantage of needing just one human, Mikey Brett, in control).
Award-winning magician David Williamson as Willy Whipsnade really did play a central role in the show. In addition to the odd magic trick, he pulled the audience into the world of Circus, circa 1903 and managed to educate and enlighten us about what we were seeing. He played both a fool and a wise man, with acerbic wit to engage the adults and winning tricks to keep everyone amused. And, he entranced the younger members of the audience throughout the evening.
The second half of the evening saw the big top being hauled into position and more acts of daring from Les Incredibles (Olavo Rocha Muniz and Denise Torres de Souza) who look every inch the part of 1903 circus act. The training of wild animals was a chance for more audience participation, with Willy Whipsnade coaching a group of four children in magic and in the meaning of life.
The evening finishes with one last big act, The Wheel of Death – a steampunk style rotating apparatus featuring large metal hoops at each end. Our show had two of the Colombian trio Carlos Mayorga Macias, Mauricio Venegas Torres and Andres Felipe Daza Venegas carry out eye-popping acrobatic skills whilst the wheel was rotating.
And, then, a grand finale to bring the night to a close.
Looking back at our review from a few years ago, when Circus 1903 first came to London, it’s clear the show has evolved, the acts have changed and there are new performers on stage. So, even if you think you’ve seen it all – there’s more!
Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus has found its perfect home at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank, a setting intimate enough to feel that you might just be inside the ‘Big Top’ but with all the technical support needed for this fast-moving, dynamic and elaborate show. It’s a modern theatre so the seating is well spaced out and there’s a massive foyer, bar and cafe making this perhaps one of the easier options if you are concerned about Covid. And, of course, there are protocols currently in place including a requirement to have an NHS Covid pass and to wear a mask.
Royal Festival Hall
London SE1 8XX
Looking for something different for the family this Christmas? We’ve also enjoyed Gangsta Granny – currently showing at the Bloomsbury Theatre. And, The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre is an unmissable treat