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Giffords Circus: My Beautiful Circus review at Chiswick House, London – ‘unadulterated charm’

Dany Cesar in My Beautiful Circus at Chiswick House, London. Photo: Gem Hall
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1930s glamour, songs from Cole Porter, Gershwin and Arthur Freed plus prancing Shetland ponies and dancing Dachshunds. Those of you seeking dangerous, edge-of-the-seat thrills may want to look elsewhere – like the Globe of Death motorcyclists of Cirque Berserk. But for sheer unadulterated charm Giffords Circus is hard to beat.

Director Cal McCrystal clearly knows a thing or two about comedy timing having directed One Man, Two Guvnors besides opera, comedy (The Mighty Boosh) and theatre productions. He has also had an association with the Cirque du Soleil but we won’t hold that against him.

My Beautiful Circus is slick but it isn’t slimy. The pace is alive and alert from the start with some clowning around and audience participation by central character Tweedy who achieves the remarkable feat of being funny without being naff.

The band romps their way through a succession of 1930s songs throughout accompanied by the slinkily eccentric singer Nancy Trotter Landry who is sufficiently deep-throated to swallow a banana and regurgitate it whole. This is one of the rare adult jokes in a show that is relatively inoffensive and sizzles with family-friendly energy.

The acts are good, including impressive hand-to-hand balancing and foot-juggling of the Dias Family and teeterboard acrobatics of the Cretu Troupe, even if the girl on the aerial silks spends too much time posing and not enough performing. But it is the packaging that really impresses. The 1930s styling is observed throughout in every detail from the costumes – hats off to designer Takis – to the continuous musical accompaniment.

There are no longueurs and no act outstays its welcome. Animal activists may object to Nell Gifford’s performing Shetland ponies, Diana Vediashkina’s Dancing Dachshunds and even Landry’s Talking Turkey but the non-humans seem well cared for and occasionally disobey commands to go off and do their own thing with hilarious results. As someone who can remember seeing trained tigers and elephants being whip-cracked into performing unnatural (for them) acts Nell’s Little Ponies are okay by me.

Iolanthe director Cal McCrystal: ‘Big laughs come when people fall over, not from clever lines’

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Stylised vintage circus with more charm than most