Gifford’s Circus: The best family show of summer
Another year, another Gifford’s Circus triumph. This quirky, original, clever, funny village green circus, based in Gloucestershire, is becoming famous now, and justly so. I’ve been for the last three or four years (though they’ve been going for 10, so there are probably quite a few of you who have seen many more), and every year I’m struck by what good value entertainment it is.
It’s not cheap in fact – it’ll set you back around £100 for a family of five – but it’s so unique that it’s one of the few shows that I think is worth every penny.
I don’t enjoy the notion of the circus with trapped animals, scary clowns with painted faces and all that malarkey but Gifford’s takes the good bits of the tradition – the traveling communal spirit, Victorian-style branding, variety performances, shock, awe and a smattering of silliness, and creates an hour and a half of perfect family entertainment.
This year’s show was Moon Songs, a very loose (and not a very neat) theme about wishing on the moon and following your dreams. Really it was just a device to tie in the disparate performers, several of whom were new this year.
Magda the extremely bendy, perky and gorgeous hoop spinner and net trapezist (for want of a cuter phrase) was phenomenal. Mr Muddy was, I believe, particularly impressed by her skill at wearing a very tight costume *sigh*
The acrobatic team from Ethopia was jaw-dropping. I. Mean. OUCH.
This year a grumpy, opinionated German dwarf was added to the team…
There was a beautiful little horse display (I’m not at all horsey so have no appreciation of the skill involved but they, er, looked pretty and pointed their hooves in the right places)
…and there was a very funny recurring set piece featuring clown Tweedy as a mechanical fortune teller. Tweedy continues to be my strange obsession. I could watch him all day. I find him and his pet iron Keith) mesmerising.
Since 2012 Cal McCrystal – the guy behind the physical comedy of One Man Two Guvnors and the Paddington movie – has directed the show, so Gifford’s is attracting high quality help, and you get the sense of the circus’ mojo rising further – this year 12 Philip Treacy specially designed hats were modelled by the performers.
You can see from the photos it’s all incredibly slick, costumes are superb, the live musicians, below, are phenomenal, and it’s just a perfectly pitched event.
BTW, if you intend to go, make sure you have some casheroo on you. Gifford’s is a heavily armoured marketing machine with posters, Emma Bridgewater mugs (at £20 a pop!!), cafe, rosettes, cuddly toys, toasters, dishwashers (OK slight exaggeration on the last two but I wouldn’t put it past them next year), and even a 60 cover pop up restaurant if you really want to go all out on the experience.
But good on Gifford’s I say. It’s tough enough to have the vision to create a show like this and turn it into a must-see, and it provides a much loved piece of quirky brightness in an area so often slathered in heritage hues, so they deserve to reel in the wonga!
The circus is at Oxford’s University Parks until Monday 6 July – a lovely spot actually and afterwards you can either hang out in the parks themselves or walk 200 metres to the Natural History Museum, or 10 minutes over into Jericho to one of the many pubs, cafes and restaurants (we ate at The Rickety Press which was fab). From Oxford, Gifford’s starts to move back into the Cotswolds to Kingham and then into Gloucestershire.
My advice? Flex the credit card and book tickets while you can.