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Giffords Circus: The Painted Wagon

Giffords Circus: The Painted Wagon

If you were ever thinking of running away with the circus this is the Big Top to choose. Giffords is a beautiful alchemy of traditional circus, storytelling and performance which delights the audience every year with new themes and clever staging. Created by the horsewoman Nell Gifford and her husband Toti in 2000 to realise her dream of having a circus she said, ‘I held the jewel of my childhood up to my eye, and through it I saw ponies and a dressing up box and a tent, and that was Giffords Circus.’

This year the troupe have hitched their painted wagon and created a wild west extravaganza to sell out audiences on village greens and posh house venues across the actual West.

Life on the outskirts of the Big Top is as intoxicating as life within it. The showman caravans are liveried in aubergine and cream forming a circle with pots of geraniums and deck chairs to make a home of life on the road. Before the show performers and dogs practise their routines, horse’s manes are plaited, fresh popcorn explodes and small children run around with sticks of pink cloud candy floss. Anticipation is high and the front of house team encourage this, striding around in exquisite handmade velvet and braided jackets with plumed hats selling programmes and stylish merchandising. In the interval there are enormous Emma Bridgwater (Nell’s sister in fact) pottery teapots of tea poured into enamel mugs and delicious homemade brownies, lemon drizzle and apple cake. There is also an onsite restaurant Circus Sauce with communal candlelit trestle tables awaiting diners with jugs of wild flowers and three course seasonal menu for those at the evening show.

Nobody is too old for this sort of entertainment, even two sassy, media savvy 11 year olds who came with me and sat in still awe throughout. Acrobatics, aerialists, dancing and burning hoop jumping horses, bounty hunting and tequila juggling and trickery all to the beat of the ‘Dodge City’ Giffords Circus saloon band. Excellently ringmastered by the bawdy Sasparilla Sal with a return visit from the incredible acrobatic Ethiopian Konjowoch troupe. The opening of the show with a life size bison and painted wagon was enough to take my breath away.

On the way home on a packed train a city gentleman made small talk with the children asking what they had done with their day. At the mention of Giffords Circus (and luckily not their bizarre encounter with Marco Pierre White Jr who hijacked our lunch) his weary face lit up, ‘tell me,’ he said, ‘is Tweedy still the clown? I love Tweedy, he is the glue that holds the brilliance together’.

That night we went to bed and dreamt of glinting sequins amongst the sawdust.

The show continues until 25th September. To book go to www.giffordscircus.co.uk

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