Ever feel like running off to the circus? I had one of those days recently, but let’s face it, it’s not always a practical option. So I had to make do with a song. And that got it out of my system. I can’t juggle either.
You might think twice if you were to watch the one I saw this week. Now that animals play little or no part in the show, it seems human peril is the key attraction.
We caught up with one at a seaside resort earlier in the week. The acts were all terrific – but utterly terrifying. There were the Hungarian tumblers who propelled themselves through the air by dropping the heaviest of their number onto the end of a human see-saw; then there was the superb Russian balancing artist who seemed as if he could balance the entire audience on the end of the knife he gripped between his teeth. Most frightening of all was the pleasant lady in the pink leotard who couldn’t stop smiling even when she was dangling upside down from the trapeze with the back of one knee. And without a safety net. So professional was she, I had visions of her smiling even as she hit the ground.
For the traditionalists, many elements were comfortingly in place. The Big Top (‘The Big Top Hat’ as my daughter called it) still looked like a Big Top. It earned a spontaneous cheer in our car as it appeared around the bend in the road. The staff were dressed in a uniform that was somewhere between Sgt Pepper and genuine Victoriana – surely the great age of the circus that still haunts the current era. But there were quite a few 21st innovations – the thrash metal soundtrack that accompanied the strongman act, that may have raised some eyebrows. The very thin young clown (no scary green hair, large red nose or big feet) was more of a stand up comic than your classic old, tragic Coco figure. Clearly pre-testing had decreed that this would scare the youngsters.
But to complain would be churlish; this was highly evolved entertainment and these brave, skilful entertainers risk their lives twice a day standing on their hands on piles of wobbling building blocks. Who could ask for anything more? And to top it all off, the ringmaster was not above serving us ice cream in the interval.
For more circus antics, seek out my poem ‘Zippo is Coming’ from my first collection ‘The Invention of Butterfly’ Ragged Raven (2006).