Gifford’s Circus bring their latest production to Marlborough Common next week. Sue Bradley caught Any Port in a Storm in the Cotswolds.
It’s got dancing horses and a height-defying pole performer, fearless gymnasts who fly through the air before landing in near-impossible places and, of course, the Cotswolds’ favourite clown.
Yet running rings around them all – literally - during this year’s Gifford’s Circus show, Any Port in a Storm, is a flock of specially-trained and ever-so-handsome chickens who have audiences in raptures.
Performing poultry are nothing new at Gifford’s, which specialise in putting on old-fashioned, ‘village green’ shows filled with talented acts. Previous years have seen Brian the goose, Bobby the cockerel and a turkey known as ‘The Oracle’ in the spotlight, while rescue dogs have also shown that it’s not impossible to teach older canines new tricks.
But the sight of chickens running around the edge of the ring, or chasing after Tweedy the Clown, makes for superb comic moments and lifts an already high quality offering into a new dimension.
This elite flock, some of which sport natty bouffants, even have their own page in the programme, in which they urge chicken owners not to underestimate their pets.
“We’re the closest living relatives to the Tyrannosaurus Rex; we’re also the most successful birds on the planet,” they cluck. “There are 16 billion of us compared with six billion of you!”
Directed for the sixth consecutive year by Cal McCrystal of The Mighty Boosh fame, and produced by Nell and Toti Gifford, with Billy Smart’s granddaughter Yasmine Smart as the company director, Any Port in a Storm is set within the closed and highly formal world of the Spanish Court.
Casting a regal eye over the comings and goings is Nell, whose good opinion of the performances is paramount, while providing the invigorating accompanying music is a small but virtuosic orchestra led by ‘Kappellmeister’ James Keay, with mesmerising singing from Viktoria Murtinova.
This year’s Gifford’s Circus troupe may be without the familiar faces of comic jugglers Bibi and Bichu and the energetic Nancy Trotter, but there are plenty of class acts that delight and amaze in equal measure.
There’s acrobat Sergii Poliakov, with his amazing balancing skills and strength; ‘Venus’ Alina Shpynova, with her startling pole performance, culminating in a display at the summit of the big top, and horse riders Dany Cesar and Attila Csilo, who show themselves to be men in perfect harmony with their equine partners. Attila, a Hungarian traditional Csikos rider, also demonstrated his prowess at riding two horses at once.
Flamenco dancers Maria Madrid Trigo and Alejandara Castel Lazaro demonstrate flawless performances of their art, court juggler Dany Reyes earns the approval, and more, of Queen Nell for his skills, and court fools The Mustache Brothers ensure there’s no shortage of slaps in their slightly risqué slapstick routines.
Little man David Pillukat was a fun and effective Maestro de Circo, who had his hands full with the irrepressible Tweedy the Clown at bay. His portrayal of a flying Neptune had everybody in stitches, as did the hilarious revue of all the acts that he performed with fellow comedic acts.
But the accolade for sheer audacity surely belongs to The King’s Gymnasts The Sol Troupe, from Cuba, with their awe-inspiring displays of swing-assisted mid-air somersaults and perfect landings, along with their unusual take on synchronised skipping.
We’re all living at a time of uncertainty and financial tensions; it often seems that storm clouds are gathering above us, but the opportunity to turn away from the hum drum of our everyday lives to watch first class performances, and have a jolly good laugh, has to be worth every penny.
And, for those who really want to make an evening of it, there’s always the Circus Sauce restaurant for a delicious meal made from local ingredients and an exclusive puppet show to boot.
Gifford’s Circus will be at Marlborough Common from Thursday, August 24 to Monday, September 4. Tickets, priced £24 for adults and £14 for children, can be booked through the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham at https://www.everymantheatre.org.uk/m-shows/giffords-circus-marlborough-common