“MORE APPEALING THAN EVER”
This is how the circus should be done. Taking it back to the golden age of the big top where each act was a show in itself and the performances were driven by talent instead of a storyline, Circus 1903 is a spectacle of showmanship, grandeur and awe-inspiring thrills. There are aerialists, contortionists, high-wire performers and jugglers, each captivating the audiences’ attention when it’s their time to shine, and all held together by a charismatic ringmaster.
David Williamson is Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade and is a quick-witted comedian and magician who delights the audience and slightly terrifies the children he calls up on stage to join in on some of the fun. With no clowns around at this circus, Williamson provides the bulk of the comedy and generally gets audience members to clown around themselves on stage instead – one such moment comes when a child hilariously (and classically) whacks a cream pie in his father’s face. It feels as though Willy has stepped right out of the early 20th century with his classic portrayal of a ringmaster, and he certainly wouldn’t be out of place in the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth.
The acts themselves were, for the most part, extremely impressive, with The Sensational Sozonov (Mikhail Sozonov) balancing atop metal canes causing the audience gasp in all the right places whilst on the edge of their seats. Hoop aerialist Lucky Moon (Aleksandra Kiedrowicz) is both graceful and breath taking, and contortionist The Elastic Dislocationist (Senayet Asefa Amare) is even more awe-inspiring when you find out she doesn’t actually have any physical malformation or double joints.
There were some less-than-impressive acts such as the couple who spin balls on their toes and fingers – next to exhilarating high-wire and knife-throwing acts, it just didn’t hold up. Remarkable as they mostly all were, however, the most poignant part came when the majestic elephants, Queenie and Karanga, entered the stage.
Of course, with attitudes to animal welfare changing significantly in recent years – and rightly so – these are not real elephants but giant puppets from the Handspring Puppet Company who worked on War Horse. The elephants’ presence felt touching as they moved about on the stage by expert puppeteers, the baby splashing the audience with water at one point. Watching them in awe proved that animal exploitation need not be a part of the circus anymore with such incredible and lifelike puppets as these.
It seems that although the circus has changed in recent years, it has never gone out of style. The Cirque du Soleil shows have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, and with the recent musical movie The Greatest Showman becoming a new classic, the idea of gathering a large crowd under a tent seems more appealing than ever. You might not be under the big top at the Southbank Centre, but you will be as close as you can get in Circus 1903.
Review by Alice Bzowska