As an unashamed fan of Giffords Circus and someone who has been going nearly every year with my family since 2004, I was so excited to be invited to the press night at Sudeley Castle. The show this year is called 'Any Port in a Storm' and as usual it is a frenetic spectacle of daring talent, raucous music, earthy humour and the best feel good factor you can pay for - oh, and some chickens.
Assisted once again by Cal McCrystal, Nell and Toti Gifford have drawn on talent from all over the globe - Cuba, Brazil, Ukraine, Slovakia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Romania, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and England - and as well as a few familiar faces like Tweedy the clown and Dany Cesar and Attila Csilo, the show is brimming with fresh talent. I haven't quite forgiven Bibi and Bichu for leaving but the new acts made up for that disappointment!
The clowning Mustache Brothers from Brazil added a form of mischief which worked well alongside Tweedy, and their high energy, sometimes subversive humour, had everyone in stitches - they are the perfect double act.
For sheer spectacle, gasps from the crowd and hand covering eyes moments, the Sol Troupe were the highlight of the show for me. A group of six men and two women from Cuba, professional acrobats and some national team gymnasts, their act built and built, as did the tension. Using a giant swing and skipping rope, they took the playground and turned it into a fearless display of physical strength and teamwork.
Add to the mix two Ukranians - Alina Shpynova, the youngest solo performer this year, who emerged from a giant clam as Venus and performed the most jaw-dropping acrobatics on a vertical pole; and Sergii Poliakov who performed a bewildering, body contorting piece on top of a harpsichord.
Dany Reyes brought his dynamic juggling act - the constant smile on his face belying his incredible technical skill. There were sea creatures, a black stallion, an opera singer and a pantless Tweedy - all accompanied by James Keay and his band of musicians.
I loved the parody of the show at the end performed by Tweedy, the Mustache Brothers and Davis Pillukat - forcing you to laugh when you felt like you really shouldn't!
As Nell Gifford says, "Circus ought to make you cry with joy. It must cast a spell."
There's no doubt that her magic is still working.
After the show we we ate dinner at Circus Sauce; a restaurant in two magnificent showman's wagons, adorned with twinkling festoon lights, bunting, candlelight and oak tables laid with Emma Bridgewater crockery. It's a seamless extension of the circus and the sense of community, of sharing and coming together continues here. Locally sourced, fresh food is brought out on platters for all to tuck into and share and halfway through the evening, the kitchen staff put on an impromptu puppet show.
We dined on asparagus with poached Cacklebean eggs and hollandaise sauce; roast pork belly with shellfish, kale and Jersey royals; and the most incredible, tooth-numbing banoffee pie.
It was the perfect ending to a magical evening, and I know I say it every year but this really was the best yet - it made me remember what it feels like to be a child again.
Thank you Giffords Circus.
- May – 5 June Daylesford Organic Farm, Kingham
- 8 – 12 June Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
- 15 – 26 June Oxford University Parks, Oxford
- 29 June – 10 July Chiswick House & Gardens, London
- 13 – 17 July Stonor Park, Henley-on-Thames
- 20 – 31 July The Fox Inn, Barrington
- 3 – 7 August Frampton on Severn, Village Green
- 10 – 21 August Minchinhampton Common
- 24 August – 4 September Marlborough Common
- 7 – 18 September Stratton Meadows, Cirencester
- 21 – 24 September Fennells Farm, Stroud