Oh What A Circus!

The Giffords Burlesque Ensemble

In the words of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice song from ‘Evita‘ and sung (in my copy) by David Essex I think expresses our view of the weekend’s activities. Circuses are the flavour of the month in our household. Most in mind is the family’s attendance at the fantastic Gifford’s Circus, located this last weekend at Sunningwell, near Abingdon and just behind Oxford’s Boar’s Hill. I’ve described this circus before, and this year’s theme was ‘The Saturday Book’ which was a popular annual miscellany published between 1941 and 1975 covering the best in past and contemporary art, literature and music in post-WWII Britain. The Gifford’s version provided a theme seemingly based in the late Victorian period, enabling a music hall ambience, flowery speech, kohl-eyed damsels in corsets, bloomers and lively musical backings including at least one operatic aria accompanying a rather non-Victorian interlude of females pestering male stage hands while they set up some of the props.

The family, with the exception of the two single children who feel mobs of toddlers a bit of a burden and would rather do more ‘grown-up’ things, assembled at Rachael and Peter’s cottage in the village. The weather remained miraculously dry although rain was forecast in the area for about 4pm, following floods in Wales and heavy rain sweeping across the south. We walked the few hundred yards to the village field, and there the circus stood in a lovely rural setting with rising slopes to the wooded hilltops of Boar’s Hill behind. A semi-circle of caravans with carousels installed ringed the big top, although probably not all that big compared so some of the grand international circuses. As we arrived we could already hear the unmistakeable sound of hilarity from the tent as Tweedy, the excellent clown, warmed up the arriving, expectant children and parents.

Tweedy and Friend at Giffords, Sunningwell

A first class performance ensued, with an interval in which we acquired mugs of tea poured from huge teapots and slices of superb homemade cake and brownies. Veronica managed, in her own inimitable way, to pin down Toti Gifford and have a quick chat about the circus and his parents, who we had met at a Wolsey Lodge area meeting a few months earlier. As the performance ended, the performers invited the children into the ring to dance with them, and grandson Jack was straight in there, ‘high-fiving’ Tweedy shortly before we all left. Strolling back to the cottage, the first light drops of rain were felt, right on cue, but we were still able to play with the grandchildren in the back garden – and that was a circus in its own right, with 6 competitive toddlers between the ages of 18 months and 5 – and tuck into a generous afternoon tea before any more rain arrived. It had made a lovely break from a full house at Hanover House (www.hanoverhouse.org) in the morning, some of whom had been working at The Wychwood Festival underway at Cheltenham Racecourse during the weekend; which involved music, comedy, cabaret, workshops and cinema; and who we had fed, entertained and seen on their various ways before clearing and heading for Sunningwell.

The Night Circus Illustration

The other circus reference that arose, was discussion of Erin Morgenstern’s ‘The Night Circus’, a highly imaginitve and beautifully written novel, which I had seen in Waterstones in Cheltenham, and attracted to by its unusual black page edges. Having read it I passed it on to Rachael who as a literary person as well as being Head of English at The Dragon School, also equally delighted in it and may use some of the cleverly crafted work in her lessons. She in turn has passed the book onto sister in law Sarah, also a primary teacher who I’m sure will thoroughly enjoy it. The book, in its newly issued paperback form, was reviewed in Sunday’s Culture section of The Sunday Times, which also gave it a positive write-up, although I’m not entirely sure if the reviewer had read it thoroughly, getting one of the principal relationships in the book wrong!

Our next circus-related event is this year’s pantomime ‘Dick Whittington‘ at The Everyman with the fantastic Tweedy playing a key part. Another grandchildren outing in the offing!


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