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Review: Circus 1903 (Royal Festival Hall)

Review by Daz Gale

The circus has come to town! While life itself has felt a bit like a circus of late, the real thing is here to remind us of the wonders and escapism a trip to the circus can give us. Rather than being set in a big top somewhere, Circus 1903 has pitched up at Royal Festival Hall for their third Christmas season in London.

A celebration of the golden age of circus, for all intents and purposes it is 1903 when you step inside the theatre (so for the love of God, put your phone away). Acts from all over the world come together to display their great skills and talents, ranging from juggling to acrobatics to death-defying stunts.

Expertly held together by ringmaster Willy Whipsnade, played by David Williamson, he commands the audience making sure everybody is having fun from the very first moment he comes out on stage chucking open bags of popcorn at everyone (I got hit by one. Where's InjuryLawyers4U when you need them?). From then on in, it's a lot of picking victims... I mean children from the audience to help him out on stage through a variety of tricks and interactions. Even the coldest hearted person couldn't help but smile at the innocence of it all - especially when the kids didn't give the answers David was hoping for.

The acts were all very capable though a few of the acrobatic acts did run the risk of blending into eachother too much making it all a bit samey. Highlights included Olavo Rocha Muniz and Denise Torres de Souza otherwise known as the brilliantly named 'Les Incredibles', the dazzling aerial skills from 'The Flying Fredonis' and 'The Sensational Sozonov' who impressed with his Rola Bola act. A couple of acts did fall flat (not literally thankfully) with a juggling act one of the less captivating moments of the evening and a pretty bizarre bicycle ballet early in the evening.

Perhaps I've been spoiled with shows such as Britain's Got Talent but some of the acts left me wanting more. I felt like Simon Cowell asking if they could set it on fire while they did the trick. My thirst for danger was rewarded with the final act of the night and the undoubtable highlight - the Magnificent Marvellos and their Wheel of death which raised my stress levels considerably.

It wouldn't be a circus without animals and for Circus 1903, the team behind

War Horse have excelled themselves with their puppetry, giving us two amazing looking (and one absolutely huge) elephants parading around the stage. It didn't matter how old you were, you couldn't help but be impressed by the sight of them and the skill it takes to bring them to the stage. Ultimately though. my standout of the night had to be David's ringmaster who was always a delight whenever he appeared on stage or in the audience.

This performance may have featured a few mishaps but that's the beauty of live theatre surely and didn't take away from the magic and wonder of the evening. Definitely designed more as a family show, I was clearly not the ideal target audience. However, watching it through the eyes of the nearby children and watching their faces light up made it clear how fantastic this show is at what it does.

Circus 1903 is by no means trying to change the world with anything new and different. Instead, it relishes on the nostalgia and familiarity, perhaps leaving us longing for a simpler time. Ultimately, the evening brought the audience joy and laughter which is something we need now more than ever. In a week where shows are closing at a rapid pace due to Covid outbreaks, I was thankful to be sitting in a theatre where the show can go on. Kids and big kids alike will love this fun and harmless production. It might not be THE greatest show but it's definitely worthy of you rolling up to see.


Circus 1903 plays at Royal Festival Hall until January 2nd 2022. Tickets from



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