Fennell’s Farm, Stroud; 16th May 2015
Before it started, I was all…
Then during the first half I was a bit…
Giffords Circus is a gorgeously vintage designed tenting operation, harnessing all the nostalgia associated with a pastoral travelling community. The village fete atmosphere inside the ring of painted wooden concession wagons gives way to golden tassles and faded velvets inside the white of the big top, and all the faces of the costumed vendors are smiling, friendly and gentile.
Established within this millennium, Giffords have built a brand and identity that gives them a unique place within the British circus scene. Based on proprietor Nell Gifford’s childhood fantasy of a village green circus, the traditions of horse-riding in a sawdust ring and variety acts introduced by a ringmaster are combined with a tethering storyline, contemporary theatricality, and the romance of a bygone era.
Moon Songs, directed by Cal McCrystal, is the meeting point of the youthful dreams and adult realities of Ethiopian jugglers Bibi and Bichu. The live band play a sequence of African influenced lunar-related covers ranging from Beethoven to Ozzy Osbourne; clown Tweedy’s face is projected above us as a beneficent man-in-the-moon (when he’s not playing delightful automaton fortune-teller Magda, or trying to get his own act centre stage); the two boys sleep in their African bed whilst living out their dream of becoming jugglers in an English circus.
The disjointed surrealism and hand-crafted aesthetic may be a further homage to George Melies’ seminal film A Trip To The Moon, referenced both in the programme design and in Tweedy’s lunar appearance. I feel teased by the possibility of an act that will impress at the same level as the setting; magician-ringmaster Odoroff The Great (Maximilliano Stia) grandly announces a succession of sequences that sit pleasantly on the eye, but fail to make my heart race or my brain care. A sedate fashion parade of Philip Treacy headwear is an interesting idea, but feels like another anticlimax in practise.
I am surprised that, with the exceptional attention to aesthetic and atmospheric detail, the technical value in most of the acts is mediocre, and that the action is often focused as if from an end-on stage, leaving me a noticeably profile view from my seat in the left-hand stands.
Highlights are Tweedy’s easy presence and grounded humour, the engrossing choreography of sinuous contortion from four female members of the Konjowoch Troupe, whose warm smiles sparkle like their golden circlets and glittering leggings as they emerge from the shadows of a moonlike screen, and Kata Kiss’s aerial net performance to a poignant rendition of The Beatles’ Across The Universe. She has the elegant legs of a young filly, and knows how to use them.
The final act of casting and banquine, from the Konjowoch Troupe (haute couture headwear now shed for more traditionally African themed attire), features high-level acrobatics, including one girl who is pitched backwards to top a three-high column. I’m also delighted by their inventiveness when they build their own human cradle, launching one performer out as another is thrown in.
As the dream is bought to a jubilant close, the full company return for a dance finale and unified 3-ring juggle. With individual artists emerging to showcase their skills, it feels like the traditionally opening charivari has been transported to the end of the show, bringing with it all the associated joy and energy. As the audience are invited to dance onstage with the company, a little tear of joy wells up in my eye. This is the circus spirit I love, even if the show itself relied more on style than content to get us there.