Where Time Stands Still and Wonder Takes Center Stage
Reviewed by Brendan Daynes
Welcome to the dazzling world of Circus 1903, a theatrical marvel that transports us back to an era when the circus was not just entertainment but a grand spectacle that captivated hearts and minds. Created in Australia in 2016, this extraordinary production has journeyed across continents, leaving a trail of awe and wonder in its wake. As the lights gently dim and Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade steps onto the stage, a wave of excitement ripples through the audience. In this enchanting experience, one cannot help but feel the magic of a bygone era unfolding before our eyes.
While most circus performances often lack a conventional narrative, this particular production defies the norm, loosely weaving a narrative reflective of the United States’ transition in the early 20th century. Against this historical backdrop, the productions ingenious structure skilfully paints a picture of the year 1903 and breathes life into the Circus Day. This was a time where circuses reigned supreme as the pinnacle of entertainment. The first act immerses the audience in the world of side shows, creating anticipation for the grand reveal under the big top in the second act, making the audience feel like they’ve stepped back in time and are witnessing the wonders of the circus for the first time.
The most important aspect of any circus was the artists, who, back in the year 1903, were the essence of what makes a circus truly remarkable – extraordinary people who perform awe-inspiring feats. This philosophy sets the stage for a production that not only embraces the legacy of circuses but elevates it to new heights. The diverse ensemble cast, hailing from various corners of the globe, brings an unparalleled level of skill and precision. Each act is a testament to not only physical prowess but also a deep commitment to the art of circus performance.
Every artist demonstrates exceptional skill in their unique acts. David Williamson, the Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade, is quick witted and commands the stage with charismatic flair. The French duo, Yoann Benhamou and Emeline Goavec, dazzle with their breathtaking trapeze and bungee straps performance. Francois Borie, also from France, is captivating with his juggling mastery, while Oskar Norin, Karl Wiberg and Anton Persson from Sweden, astound with their acrobatic skill on the teeterboard. The Ethiopian duo, Mohammed Ibrahim and Hamza Seid, star in the Icarian Games, an ancient circus act rarely seen today, while fellow Ethiopian Mekdes Kebede astounds as a The Elastic Dislocationist. The Bulgarian duo, Yani Stoyanov and Valeri Tsvetkov, showcase incredible strength as strongmen. Elena Suarez-Pariente from Spain mesmerises with her hair hang act, and German artist David Schnabel wows the audience with his acrobatic bicycle skills. This diverse ensemble creates a symphony of skill, precision, and jaw dropping entertainment.
The intentional reintroduction of elephants, Queenie and Peanut, into the spectacle is a deliberate and inspired choice. James Donovan Smith, Nyron Levy, Amelie Leroy, Chris Milford, Mikey Brett, Will Palmer, and Anton Persson unite their talents, creating a mesmerising showcase of skill and artistry that truly captivates the audience. Taking us on a journey back to the early 20th century, the producers not only pay homage to historical accuracy but also capture the essence of a time when the sight of a majestic African elephant and her calf was nothing short of a miraculous experience. In an age where concerns for animal welfare take precedence, the inclusion of puppet elephants proves to be a stroke of genius, providing a visual spectacle that resonates with the grandeur of a bygone era.
Authenticity permeates every aspect of the production, from the period-appropriate costumes designed by Angela Aaron to the masterful lighting and set design by Alex Marshall. The musical composition and direction by Evan Jolly serve as a dramatic backdrop, eliciting a range of emotions and intensifying the excitement of each circus act. The production team’s meticulous attention to historical details, coupled with the sheer brilliance of the performances, elevates this production beyond a mere spectacle to a living tribute to the rich legacy of circuses.
In a world that is constantly evolving, Circus 1903 serves as a reminder of the timeless magic that can be found under the big top, a magic that continues to captivate audiences and defy the passage of time. The circus has long been a symbol of escapism, transporting audiences to fantastical worlds where the impossible becomes possible and this production does just that. Circus 1903 is not merely a show, it’s an immersive experience where the essence and tradition are not just preserved but elevated to new heights.
Circus 1903 will be delighting audiences in Sydney from 21st – 29th December 2023 before heading to Melbourne from 4th – 14th January 2024. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets please visit https://circus1903.com/