Giffords Circus

 

Just been to see Giffords Circus (in a field outside Cirencester) — as part of Diana’s dad’s belated Father’s Day present!  (Thank you, Ellis.)  Also turned out to be Diana’s ex-husband’s birthday (Pete got a cheer and a rousing chorus) so in all we were a family party of 12 — in a very small Big Top!

Giffords was founded ten years ago by Toti and Nell Gifford who had worked with Yasmine Smart — granddaughter of the famous Billy Smart — and realised that the UK  lacked the kind of traditional circus performances that are still spectacularly successful on the continent.  So they decided — from their base on a Gloucestershire Farm — to set up their own traditional but miniature circus, touring Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxordshire with their amazing show.  Every season’s show is on a diferent theme:  this year was ‘Yasmine — the Musical’, telling the story of Yasmine Smart’s life (and love affair with horses) in the style of a vaguely 1940s musical show.

We arrived amid a bustle of adults and children, with a genuine fairground organ (mounted on a genuine old Ford truck) churning out popular tunes;  a fleet of gleaming and impeccably maintained vehicles, all finished in ‘Pullman’ cream and maroon, surrounded an impossibly dinky ‘Big’ Top into which several hundred of us squeezed.  Before the show started, at 2.30, we were treated to various warm-up routines including an extraordinary audience-participation clapping routine led and choreographed entirely without words by the amazing mime artist Olivier Taquin.

There was a sizeable band — piano, kit drums, brass instruments of all shapes and sizes, saxophones, guitars and banjos, violin, double bass, and a variety of percussion (including dustbin and spanners) — all members of the company, it seemed, multi-tasking on several instruments.

Invidious to name all the artistes, but there were spellbinding performances from Sarah Schwartz on the high wire, Gabor Vosteen as a crazy (but brilliant) recorder player, eventually blowing five instruments at once (don’t ask);  juggling brothers Bibi and Bichu who did a fantastic hat-juggling routine followed by multi-club-juggling (ten clubs at the end).  And a Chinese lady performing juggling feats on a unicycle on top of a giant rubber ball…

Plus assorted babies, nurses, grooms and dancers — not to mention the animals:  Brian the goose (and friend), chickens, a tiny dachshund, some small but beautiful ponies (led by Emily Seal as ‘the teenage Yasmine’), and of course Yamine herself with her breathtakingly beautful Arab liberty stallions, some of which she has trained ‘from wild’ only since October last year.

Impossible to believe this dazzling show lasted less than 90 minutes (plus interval — thanks to Rachel for tea and cakes, and to Diana for coffee and brandy!).  The feelgood factor was tremendous, the energy levels and sheer busyness just amazing — all the participants, all the time, were giving everything they had, singing and dancing along, leading the clapping and finger-clicking, unobtrusively setting and changing the scenes, and of course playing whatever instrument (and role)  was required of them.  The only casualty was the ‘story-line’ of the musical, since the words of the various songs (all original compositions) were largely inaudible.  But they were printed (words and music) in the lavish and handsome programme, so they are there for posterity at least.

The children present all loved it (except poor Lottie, who is allergic to horses) — especially when the performers flirted with them in the crowd (as also with one of the grown-ups, who was dragged out to do a turn with a ‘mechanical doll’  — Olivier Taquin again).  The rest of us grown-ups were enthralled and delighted, and I supsect I wasn’t the only one who watched the whole show with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye for the sheer professionalism, dedication and high spirits of all concerned in a form of entertainment we thought was long dead.

Bravo to Toti and Nell Gifford for their brilliant idea (and kudos to them for mucking in to the performance along with everyone else!).  Long may they prosper, and I look forward to seeing Giffords Circus again next year…

http://www.giffordscircus.com/

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