Gifford’s Circus: The Hooley

Chiswick House, London
June 24, 2021

On a cool, overcast evening in Chiswick a very familiar face was once again transformed into a mystery as Gifford’s Circus returned to present a hooley. Well almost. Covid-19 has prevented the party from being too wild.

Still, Gifford’s is back and there is light at the end of the tunnel we hope. In fact, it’s a pretty momentous year for the most traditional and theatrical of circuses as this is their 21st year and the first without founder Nell Gifford, seen in her final performances in 2019.

Like an Irish bar that is far from the Emerald Isle, everything has a tinge of green, even the mighty Tweedie, this year a little under-used. The Hooley owes a great deal to the great Soviet traditions of ballet and circus, the former underpinning the grace of the acrobatics of the latter.

Irish dancing in the finale of The Hooley by Gifford’s Circus
Photo Andrew Rees

The show has not one but two Irish dancers. Irish by technique that is. In fact, Simon Poliushkin is from Minsk and Michael Roberson from Little Rock, Arkansas. Both possess quick feet and superb timing. In passing, The Hooley opens with the Kingdom of the Shades music from La Bayadère – a fair bet that this is the first time that it’s been played by a ceilidh band. Moscow was represented by acrobats Denis Remnev and Tatiana Ozhiganova.

There’s lots of silly goings on along with the regular circus acts, music and dance. The acrobats and tissu act are pixies and goblins, Tweedy the leprechaun causing his usual havoc protecting his crock of gold, at one point suspended above a weighted ladder with predicable results. The women were fairies. A fun sub-plot has the goblins kidnapping the fairies until one of them falls in love.

There is a lot of dancing in the show but of course it is the animal acts that create the circus magic. Gifford’s have brought their horse act in-house (the initial acts were inspired by Gerald Balding, cousin of Chiswick resident Clare) represented by a steady Percheron (Tony or Tyson) for vaulting; and an impressive dressage horse, Sebastian, who must have been a good 17 hands and not in the slightest bit fazed by an acrobat whizzing round his head. He also executed some neat lateral work in the comparatively small ring.

The Soviet school comes to the fore again in the bird act where Andrejs Fjodorov plus Samoyed dog allied simplicity with grace.

The evening started with grey clouds but, by the time that the mass dancing was over, the clouds had gone and a balmy late evening was yielding the first stars.

Welcome back Gifford’s – the show is indeed going on.

Gifford’s Circus is touring all summer. for dates and venues.