Review: Circus 1903 (Royal Festival Hall)

The circus has come to town until 2 January, bringing a bit of sparkle and spectacle to the Southbank Centre.

With two hours of acts ranging from catchers to aerialists, jugglers to puppet elephants, teeterboard leapers to hula hoopers, Circus 1903 has something for everyone, including comic interludes with children picked from the audience.

There are some very talented people up on that stage, showcasing what the human body can do when asked to balance, jump, spin or leap. Closing act The Magnificent Marvellos with their ‘Wheel of Death’ are perhaps the most spectacular – no harnesses or safety nets here – but acrobatic rollerskaters The Rolling Raspinis and bicycle trickster Florian, ‘the Cycling Cyclone’, add a different type of thrill.

Production image from Circus 1903

Dexterity of various types was demonstrated last night by juggler The Great Gaston (hats, ping pong balls), Natalia (rolling ball, hula hoop) and The Sensational Sozonov (rola bola). For jumps, The Perilous Peligos demonstrated their Russian Bar skills and Les Incredibles (Olavo and Denise) display their Russian Cradle skills.

Add in the beauty of silk work from the Flying Fredonis (Darya and Vadim) and the high-flyers in the Daring Desafios, and there are monents to delight, entertain, and amaze from across the globe.

You may not see every act listed in the programme at every performance, but within the two-act structure (the first, outdoors as the circus tent is constructed; the second, inside the Big Top), the mix works well.

American magician David Wiliamson takes charge of proceedings as ‘Willy Whipsnade’, the Rongmaster who keeps the action flowing. His interaction with the child guests was fun and joshing, and he’s an enthusiastic MC.

Production image from Circus 1903

Inside the elephants are gifted puppeteers Mikey Brett (Peanut), James Donovan, Jamie Morgan, Tom Norman (Queenie), plus handlers Amelie Leroy and Will Palmer. They all bring back lifelike memories of the circuses we saw as children in the 1970s.

It might be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the occasional mistake in a routine or two, but that’s often what makes live theatre feel real and immediate. These are tricky acts which could cause real physical damage if executed incorrectly, and each performer has the skill and charm to command their stage.

You can experience Circus 1903 for yourself at the Royal Festival Hall until 2 January – book your tickets here.

Images: Dan Tsantilis