They’re back and better than ever: Giffords Circus in Xanadu

Chiswick House and Gardens, London
June 27, 2019

Charlotte Kasner

Giffords Circus have taken up their summer residence in the idyllic walled gardens in Chiswick House grounds where they have again created an intimate, secluded world of wonder.

In Xanadu, we are transported back to the ‘summer of love’ when the hippies and yippies created the counter-culture and pop music blared out from all directions from newly transistorised radios. All the Giffords favourites become the beautiful people including the ever-gobsmackingly talented Tweedie, taking a break from playing Estragon to persuade us that he was indeed born to be wild. Why ride a bicycle the right way up when it can be ridden vertically whilst juggling fire? The choreography in the slosh routine was ridiculously precise. Yes, that body skid stopped exactly where it was meant to.

The Curatola Brothers at Giffords Circus. Photo Gem Hall
The Curatola Brothers at Giffords Circus
Photo Gem Hall

Imagine a human-sized hula hoop and now imagine a coin slowly spinning on its edge until it gets lower and lower and stops. Add Lil Rice (Nell Gifford’s niece), call it a cyr wheel and voila, you have an act! The core strength required to maintain the spin as the wheel is nearly flat on the floor is astounding.

The amazing Jacob D’Eustachio is back after extensive tours around the world. Boy can he juggle. He manages a reverse striptease, starting out in undies and then adding jacket and trousers, all the while flipping his hat on and off his head in between the juggling balls. As ever with expert juggling, it is the economy of movement that astonishes, brain and eyes almost convincing that he can make whatever he is juggling pause in mid-air.

There’s even had a Graham Chapman-esque policeman who, this being Giffords, when not running around blowing his whistle, was one half of the Curatola Brothers hand-to-hand acrobatic act, the denouement of which was the ‘policeman’ extending his ‘trousers’ so that his partner could jump into them from his shoulders. Not for the first time in the evening did I wonder what a miss would look like.

One of the things that amazes me about circus is that performers do all of the things that competitive gymnasts do but with extra panache and several times over. Such were the Havana Circus Company on the parallel bars and skipping ropes.

Mad Annie Ratsova twisted and twirled from the trapeze and a similar adagio act from Duo Imagine, also Moscow-trained, help to calm down the audience after some of the more frenetic moments. Pozo, in his guise as the Funky Guru, brought us the bird acts.

The nub of the evening however came with the Donnerts family. As Nell Gifford says, “A world without horses is no world for our circus,” and horses have been in the Donnerts’ world for generations. Gifford and child introduced the Lusitanos (somewhat underpowered) and but then came the vaulting horses, including a stunning Haflinger. The paces were so steady that they could have been set to a metronome; no mean feat in such a small ring, and undoubtedly the highlight of the evening.

The glue that held the whole evening together came courtesy of the terrific band, Cal McCristal’s seamless direction and dramaturgy, and Kate Smyth’s fluid and fluently executed choreography, topped off by stunning costumes from takis. The stage management was as choreographed as the dancing, all of which flowed easily within the narrative conceit of Kubla Khan’s stately pleasure-dome. All of the performers, crew and front of house people worked their socks off (sometimes literally) and invested every functional and artistic gesture with integrity. There is many a drama stage that could do with an infusion of this sort of work-ethic and genuine theatricality.

Giffords Circus is at Chiswick House and Gardens to July 8, 2019. Book via the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.
For other dates to the end of September, visit