Switching between anecdotal encounters, show reviews and light investigative reporting, this is an engaging and enjoyable read, offering an evocative flavour of circus life. Not, however, an ‘expert guide to the history and culture of the circus’, as promised on the back-cover blurb.
McPherson has clearly developed a passion for his subject and presents a warm, caring and – at times – slightly star-struck account of his experiences visiting a few specific circus companies. He seamlessly integrates historical research amid the tales of personal encounters, although this sometimes skims a surface understanding, suggesting online research rather than academic sources.
It is refreshing to see some coverage of non-western circus tradition, and the places where the two began to fuse, and it’s also interesting to note McPherson’s references to televisual pop-culture and its influences on – and from – traditional circus.
Individual chapters of the book focus the spotlight on key elements of contemporary circus culture in the UK, each framed with reference to a particular show the author attended over the course of his research. I have no doubt that this will be a fascinating resource to circus scholars of the future, looking back on our particular period of history; it is important to remember however, that in highlighting specific examples, the author has created a collection of snapshots, rather than a comprehensive overview.
Above all, it is an entertaining and accessible read, and certainly opens a much needed tent-flap into today’s circus world.