Chiswick House and Gardens – until 8th July 2019, then touring
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
You wouldn’t think a big top would be difficult to find, but getting to this meant an anxious dash along shadowy paths, past high walls and locked gates with no signs. Some of us audience were pretty frazzled on arrival. But by the end of the evening, all that was forgotten and we were dancing our hearts out in the middle of the arena. (I’m sure the signage will be fine from now on.)
This is a fabulous evening, with classic circus acts – astonishing acrobats, juggling, gorgeous trapeze and strap artists, clowning and the rest – brought together with terrific energy and style (Cal McCrystal directs; design is by takis). The Xanadu name comes from Coleridge’s dream-like 1797 poem, but the look is gloriously 1970s psychedelic. That means flares, afros, colour, bandannas, more colour, and classic 1960s and 70s songs, excellently performed by James Keay, Lil Rice and the band. There are clowns but don’t be alarmed – they’re funny and not at all creepy. The main one, Tweedy, has been with Giffords for 12 years. Circus founder Nell Gifford appears as a lovely lady on a white horse. Cuban acrobats come on as ‘The Beautiful People’ and do improbable leaps with skipping ropes and high bars. The Hungarian Donnert family do gymnastics on horseback (somehow horses are an acceptable exception to the rule that circuses shouldn’t have animals.) The Curatola Brothers do a bonkersly brilliant little acrobatic routine. A couple called Duo Imagine move enchantingly through the air held up by a strap and a lot of faith in each other. And so on – all with bags of charm and lots of dance, ending in a party-like finale, which is how we all ended up in the sawdust, boogying along with the performers.
Tasty end note: this circus travels with its own restaurant, Circus Sauce, which does very tasty nosh. You have to book: giffordscircus.com/sauce. Candyfloss, popcorn and the like are also on sale.