An Appreciation: CIRCUS 1903

Theatre requires tension. And you certainly get your fair share of tension in Circus 1903, although not of the usual theatrical kind. An at first quaint-seeming idea reveals itself to be a circus more about skill than razzle-dazzle in the Barnum and Bailey mould, and is all the better for it. Made more relatable, this is a true family show in which the kids are fully included.

The collection of acts are well curated. Acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, aerial artists are all well-represented and interspersed with turns by the ringmaster who does several bits with the children in the audience, who are all treated with fun and respect and heart. The much-anticipated section featuring the elephants (or puppets thereof) brings much ooh-ing from the youngsters, but I dare anyone of any age to look at them without being swept along by the grace and power of their skilfully-observed movements. The kids (of all ages) were enchanted.

Comedy, magic, grace and agility were all spotted cannily and given their chance to dazzle the almost full-house at London’s Royal Festival Hall. The whole thing runs just under two hours including an interval, with the acts being not so overlong as to outstay their welcome. It is interesting to look at, the music is suitably melodramatic and potent, and the sense of audience involvement is genuine. Although I haven’t been to a circus in over forty years, this show revived a child-like wonder at the skill and daring of these unique people who have honed their life’s work into a four-minute act. Rather like the long-lost days of variety, it felt good to experience those specialists who had all but disappeared, in a theatrical environment that didn’t overwhelm them as individuals.

If you want to remember the feeling of being a kid, no matter what your current age, get yourself along to the Royal Festival Hall by Sunday 5th January. Or have to wait for their undoubted return next Christmas!

CIRCUS 1903 runs at the Royal Festival Hall until Sunday 5th January. Information and tickets here

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