Tag Archives: Cal McCrystal

GIFFORDS CIRCUS – AVALON

★★★★

Chiswick House and Gardens

GIFFORDS CIRCUS – AVALON at Chiswick House and Gardens

★★★★

“the performers, the musicians and the magic soon bring us back into a wonderland that Nell Gifford would be proud of”

Nell Gifford ran away with the circus when she was eighteen. “I held the jewel of my childhood up to my eye”. For most of us it is a dream that tugs at the arm of our inner child. For Nell it was reality. She fell deeper in love with that magical world as she travelled the globe, never letting go of the dream until a quarter of a century ago when, together with her ex-husband Toti Gifford, she turned her vision into what is now an annual, village green, travelling circus. Nell sadly passed away in 2019, but she continued to step beyond life’s boundaries until the very end. Giffords Circus continues in her name, attracting the top performers from around the world.

We are not just transported back to our childhoods. We are also taken to a bygone age, and into a fantastical storybook. To a time and a place that arrives without warning. The big top appears mysteriously, glimpsed through the treetops. It is there. Yesterday it wasn’t. Tomorrow it may not be. Each year, Giffords Circus adopts a theme and this year the audience enters a medieval world of pageantry and Arthurian legend. Welcome to “Avalon”.

Regulars will be approaching the tent in the knowledge that Tweedy will not be appearing. He leaves behind a big pair of clown shoes to fill, but Cuthbert (pronounced an elongated, raspberry-blowing Cuthhhrrrffbbert) fits into them effortlessly, running amok with comedic and rebellious abandon. He (kind of) enrols Merlin the Magician as a (sort of) sidekick. The pair compete to outdo each other in silliness and skilfulness. Maximiliano Stia, as Merlin, clearly wears the wizard’s hat when it comes to magic; while Tyler West, as Cuthbert, dons many caps sprinkling his comic magic over the show. Sprinkles? No, it’s shovelled onto us, leaving us spluttering with laughter. A rebel without a care, West is determined to rip up the tenuous, medieval narrative theme. Piecing it back together, though, is Guinevere (Nell O’Hara), who recites vague, mythical references to all things Avalon in rhyming couplets before delighting us with her magical voice. The song selection often strays far from the twelfth century, as Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’ race round the ring hot on the heels of Rolling Stones’ chart-toppers. Excalibur is speared in rock n roll; it’s not just a sword in the stone. The brilliant house band – this year affectionally named ‘Jethro Dull’ – are playing live throughout. With masterful skill and musicality, they steer the performers through their acts, simultaneously underscoring and watching over them, like lion tamers cracking tunes instead of whips.

But the acts themselves need little taming. They are wild yet extremely honed. Nick Hodge, in the guise of King Arthur, spins within his Cyr wheel while a quartet of gravity defying acrobats – The Godfathers – ricochet off each other like a juggler’s skittles. Morgan Barbour and Victoria Sejr are the Damsels of the Ring, hanging from the air from their hoop in exotic, serpentine unison; entwined around each other and entangled in a shared danger. None of the performers has a safety net. Dylan Medini weighs up the impossible as he precariously balances on his unfeasible collection of unsteady, unstable and wobbly objects. Meanwhile his sister, Asia, turns hula hoops into living sculptures that snake around her sylph-like form, in perfect time to the music. The pair later come together as a double act in a dizzying dance that takes roller-skating to vertiginous heights. Dany Rivelino, as Barold the Page, wanders in and out of the action, slightly mystified, juggling a deadpan comedy with… well – juggling.

Our four-legged friends are not shy of the limelight. Equestrian Latoya Donnert lets her pony take centre stage as she watches on in pride as the Lady of Shalott, while Sir Dagonet and the Priestess Lenore (Pat Clarrison and Pip Ashley) wow us with what is dubbed as their ‘Comedy Dog Art’. That speaks for itself. There are moments when we do feel like we have wandered into the Britain’s Got Talent semi-finals, but the performers, the musicians and the magic soon bring us back into a wonderland that Nell Gifford would be proud of. Director Cal McCrystal once more keeps the flag flying and as we roam back out into the night, under the stars and the twinkling lights of the circus wagons, with the wandering minstrels mingling with the crowds; we are already looking forward to next year. And wandering what the theme might be. If Giffords Circus isn’t an annual date in your diary, it should be. It’s definitely a day to remember. A night you won’t forget.


GIFFORDS CIRCUS – AVALON at Chiswick House and Gardens

Reviewed on 13th June 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Emily Jo West

 

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Previous Giffords Circus review:

THE HOOLEY | ★★★★★ | June 2021

GIFFORDS

GIFFORDS

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page

 

Garry Starr Performs Everything

★★★½

Southwark Playhouse Borough

GARRY STARR PERFORMS EVERYTHING at Southwark Playhouse Borough

★★★½

“an hour of squirm-inducing silliness you’ll want to bring all your friends to”

Recently barred from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Garry Starr is on a mission to save theatre from the pretentious establishment who make Billy Shakes boring. To achieve this, he has under an hour to pack in as many genres as possible, to show, solo, how they should really be performed.

It’s a high-energy romp and a quintessential fringe comedy show. One hour of intensely physical theatre best enjoyed after sinking one or two pints. Both to more heartily laugh at the silliness of it all and to more readily volunteer as Garry’s co-star.

Garry, the creation of Damien Warren-Smith, is endearingly eccentric with his lack of self awareness leading to comic error rather than arrogance. He is full of malapropisms – those who don’t understand the theatre are phallustines; we are told about Starr’s semenal work; and introduced to Placeidon – the god of the sea and after birth. Dressed in Elizabethan ruff and too-tight, knee-length leggings-come-breeches, Warren-Smith as Starr gives us a rendition of what Act 2 Scene 2 of Hamlet would have sounded like in Shakespeare’s day. Then, stripping down to a very small and well-stuffed jock-strap, prances about to show us contemporary dance. It is telling that the piece ends with Garry’s take on Cirque Nouveau – for this show owes more to clowns and jesters than it does to Ibsen or Chekhov.

Acclaimed director Cal McCrystal, responsible for directing an early show for The Mighty Boosh and the physical comedy in One Man, Two Guvnors, is an excellent fit for Warren-Smith’s slapstick. But the audience interaction, general lack of clothing and, at times, full frontal nudity, felt like it owed a lot to shows directed by Dr Brown, like Natalie Palamides’ Laid and Courtney Pauruoso’s Gutterplum. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given both Dr Brown and Damien Warren-Smith, the man behind the character, both trained at the Parisian clown academy Ecole Philippe Gaulier.

The show suffers from the Nanette-ification of comedy, where a set is not complete without its final act reckoning with the struggles that forged it. Here it feels contrived and out of kilter with the rest of the outrageous silliness of the rest of the show. Some comedy, particularly clowning and physical theatre, can just be unashamedly funny.

Nonetheless I was stunned when the show ended that an hour had already gone by. I would happily have kept watching whilst Starr took on kitchen-sink drama or Gilbert and Sullivan. Garry Starr’s high energy dramatics hold up a funhouse mirror to theatre making for an hour of squirm-inducing silliness you’ll want to bring all your friends to.

 


GARRY STARR PERFORMS EVERYTHING at Southwark Playhouse Borough

Reviewed on 4th December 2023

by Amber Woodward

Photography by Jeromaia Detto

 

 

More Southwark Playhouse reviews:

Lizzie | ★★★ | November 2023
Manic Street Creature | ★★★★ | October 2023
The Changeling | ★★★½ | October 2023
Ride | ★★★ | July 2023
How To Succeed In Business … | ★★★★★ | May 2023
Strike! | ★★★★★ | April 2023
The Tragedy Of Macbeth | ★★★★ | March 2023
Smoke | ★★ | February 2023
The Walworth Farce | ★★★ | February 2023
Hamlet | ★★★ | January 2023
Who’s Holiday! | ★★★ | December 2022
Doctor Faustus | ★★★★★ | September 2022

Garry Starr Performs Everything

Garry Starr Performs Everything

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page