Press ESC or click the X to close this window

Giffords Circus Avalon 2024 (Susan Elkin reviews)

Giffords Circus

Avalon 2024

Directed by Cal McCrystal

Chiswick House Gardens

Star rating: 2.5


It’s a very long time since I saw a circus. In fact I’ve not been since my bad old childhood days when we got lions perched on pedestals, dancing elephants and seals balancing balls on their noses. So I was curious to find out what a modern circus is, or does.

The answer – at least  under Cal McCrystal’s directorial hand – is a big glitzy panto, complete with rhyming couplets in a sawdust-floored Big Top spliced together with stunning and varied acrobatic acts. It’s glitzy, slick, fast paced  entertainment with each act well timed so that the pace never flags and you never get bored.

Giffords Circus Band is a six piece delight. They play almost continuously, timing everything perfectly to what’s happening in the ring which means they have to be exceptionally alert and versatile– and they certainly meet the challenge as we range from pop to folk to Paul Dukas, Simon and Garfunkel and music intended to evoke the Arthurian period. James Keay, MD has done a fine job. Sometimes there are vocals. The band’s own David Meredith is good but Nell O’Hara who floats rather unmemorably around the action singing, lacks the necessary presence and vocal power.

Although the clowning – mostly focused on Tyler West who’s a dwarf – brought gales of laughter from the press night audience and West is very competent at what he does, it did nothing for me. I remain unamused by “sizeist” stuff and by nonsense with audience plants. And when it got to two small girls, who clearly weren’t plants, the laughter at their reactions then, as far as I’m concerned it’s a turn off.

It’s the skilled and immensely talented physical performers who are, after the band, the real stars of this show. Dylan and Asia Medini, for example, are brother and sister. They do a startlingly good roller skate act on a small, pliable, circular base. I sat, heart in mouth, reflecting  first on the trust that such a performance requires and second the decades of practice it must have taken – probably since they were tiny children, She also does a fabulous hooping act with shiny hoops spinning in all directions at once and he contributes a clever balancing “rola bola” act. We also get The Godfathers who do hand balance and vaulting and  Nick Hodge who’s a wizard on the Cyr Wheel and very skilled on ropes – among others. They all excel at what they do.

My main issue with this show, however is the inclusion of animals. Yes, the use of wild ones is now banned in the UK, thank goodness. But, I now learn that it is still permissible to train and use domestic animals. This show included one act with a Shetland pony and another with four dogs. According to Giffords website these animals are loved and cared for, fully licensed and approved and all the rest of it. And I’ve no doubt that’s true, although they’re also exposed to the stress of bright lights, long journeys and performance routines.  Pat Clarrison and Pip Ashley, for example, have “rescued” all four of their dogs who live with them in their trailer as family. Latrova Donnert comes from an equestrian family and the Shetland pony she works with in this show is trained by her father to do these pointless tricks. In both cases the animals are constantly fed treats to reward their obedience. I found these acts  demeaning and utterly repellent in concept. I couldn’t decide whether the nausea I felt was caused by the appalling smell of the popcorn being munched by the women next to me or by the distressing spectacle in the ring: probably a combination of both. I hope passionately that someone in the new government finds time to push through an amendment so that the Wild Animals in Circuses Act  2019  comes to include ALL animals. I probably would not have agreed to see and review this show, had I known that it exploits animals who, unlike humans, have not chosen circus life.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
More posts by Susan Elkin