Circus 1903 at the Royal Festival Hall
Roll up, roll up to this extraordinary celebration of physical and artistic achievement, evoking the sounds and sensations of the circus of a century ago; a time before reality TV, before excitement was sought on a 5-inch screen. Circus 1903 transports its audience back to a period when true joy was seeing the circus pulling into town and wondering what the show to come might reveal of how truly remarkable humans can be.
At the heart of this extraordinary spectacle is our charming ringmaster, Willy Whipsnade (David Williamson). With boundless charisma and energy, Willy commands an audience that spans at least three generations, guiding us through the story of a troupe preparing for a groundbreaking show that will resurrect the golden age of the circus.
For somewhere along the way, audiences were no longer satisfied with merely being entertained. They needed to be convinced. Clowns and freak shows were unable to stand the test of time. But in this production, the result of years of dedicated training promises to astound even the most sceptical eye.
The Great Gaston (François Borie), juggler extraordinaire, masters seven clubs at once in a routine of the utmost speed and skill; Olavo Rocha Muniz and Marcela Collares execute heartstopping somersaults high above the stage wearing a blindfold; Lucky Moon (Aleksandra Kiedrowicz) mesmerises with an aerial hoop dance that is a beautiful, emotional moment of physical storytelling.
A particular highlight is the Sensational Sozonov (Mikhail Sozonov) who masters Rola Bola tricks, hand-standing atop a precarious tower of moving cylinders. And (this is the circus, after all) all this with an unwavering smile! The audience is bound to hold its breath for as long as it takes him to complete an inconceivable 360-degree rotation from this dizzying height.
A special mention must go to the four-legged stars of the show. Queenie and Peanut are brought to life by a team of puppeteers who we perceive only briefly before the illusion is complete and two elephants appear to be roaming the stage of Royal Festival Hall.
It looks like magic, but as the ringmaster reveals, “What you are actually seeing is the dedication of a lifetime.” There were a few wobbles, a couple of near-misses. But this only made these dangerous feats all the more thrilling, reminding the audience of the risks being taken, and the skill involved in pulling them off.
Take your children, take your grandparents, take a date. Circus 1903 is a captivating show that will continue to fuel your imagination and conversation for days afterwards.
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Circus 1903 is at the Royal Festival Hall from 19th December until 5th January 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.