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Giffords Circus: Xanadu review at Chiswick House – ‘the little circus with a big heart’

Lil Rice in Giffords Circus: Xanadu at Chiswick House and Gardens. Photo: Gem Hall
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This year’s theme at Giffords Circus is the Summer of Love, circa 1967, and the acts assembled by the redoubtable Nell Gifford embrace the psychedelic ambience with alacrity. It’s baubles, bangles, beads and afros a-go-go as the usual suspects – Tweedy the Clown, Nell Gifford and the Curatola Brothers are joined by clown juggler Jacob D’Eustachio and the acrobats of the Havana Circus Company.

The acts are short, sharp and enthusiastically inventive; nothing outstays its welcome. As a theatre and comedy director Cal McCrystal understands the value of timing and rhythm and Xanadu is punctuated with period songs, dancing (impressively choreographed by Kate Smyth) and comic interludes. Pozo summons doves from the air and generally exudes good vibes, man, even when one bird decides to rebel and join the band instead. “That was meant to go on his head,” says Liverpudlian MC Michael Fletcher.

The big acts are terrific – Lil Rice rolls around the circus ring designed to resemble a vinyl record in a Cyr wheel, the Donnerts perform amazing equestrian acrobatics atop two enormous horses, including a breathtaking backflip from one horse to another, and Tweedy and his partner engage in a water and coloured gunk fight that mischievously reaches into the audience and leaves the floor looking like a Jackson Pollock painting. 

This is the point of Giffords: for just shy of two hours, you can return to the innocence of childhood and surrender to the wonder of a world of delightful, charming vagabonds. The little circus with a big heart, it punches well above its weight.

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Colourful clowning and equestrian acrobatics in the charming new show from Giffords Circus