Circus 1903 have dusted off their juggling batons and returned to London for another year in an attempt to dazzle and entertain even more audiences - but this year the spectacle is sorely underwhelming.  

Blazoned across the boisterous marketing for this show are fire-breathing performers, huge tightrope bicycle stunts and knife-throwing daredevils - none of whom appear in the show and instantly I feel misled. Yes, we are treated to some outstanding talent in the two-hour production but far from at the scale promised - particularly uncomfortable when noting a family of four’s visit could get quite expensive. Oddly the Eventim Apollo, so often a venue packed for major musicians, comedians or productions, is passably muted for the evening whilst the ringmaster battles through utilising some much-needed charm and strong audience work. The set itself is frustratingly misleading also. Trapeze apparatus fills the stage but is not used at any point during the show - just there for the aesthetic maybe? 

The acts filling the bill are exceptionally talented. We have the Daring Desafios being flung high into the air by their teeterboard (see-saw), The Elastic Dislocationist (contortion artist) who was outstanding but equally toe-curling and The Wizard of Wheels gifting us an incredible ballet and  

balancing act whilst riding a bicycle. The most terrifying and heart-stopping of them all was The  Rolling Rodríguez on his Role Bola - a balance board on top of a cylinder. Raised above the stage he gradually adds more height and a second cylinder, teetering so close to the edge that gasps are heard from the crowd. 

Before long the stunts become formulaic and desperately lack creativity. The opening acts were supported by the entire cast, ensuring that natural lulls and resets can be masked through choreography or movement but the later acts have no such luxury and energy levels suffer. Seeing live performers working at the very limits of their ability is no doubt thrilling but on more than a few occasions tricks did go wrong and performers stumbled - once again cutting the energy levels.  There are also lingering hints of misogyny in the circus format as women are regularly left to be merely assistances for much of the male-dominated lineup. 

Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade rightly recognises that the few minutes we see of a performance are the result of years and years of practice and patience. That talent is clear to see not just in the on-stage performers but in the costumes, the lighting and the rousing sound design. The elephant puppets inject imagination and wonder into the show - their lifelike movements and character are enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.  

The sad conclusion is that this production gives off the tacky odour of a commercial cash grab.  This company is full to bursting of diverse and inventive talent but this is an expensive show that lacks a creative direction and needs to stop overselling its offerings. This is one the kids might enjoy but at times like these, there are better places to put your cash. 


It runs until 29 December. Tickets from £24 here  (and you can use the code LTR8 for an extra 8% off)


Review: Henry Longstaff