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The Hooley

The Hooley


Chiswick House and Gardens

The Hooley

The Hooley

 Chiswick House and Gardens

Reviewed – 24th June 2021



“a carnival of fun, silliness and breath-taking skill and enchantment”


“Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild. With a faery, hand in hand…” The line, from W. B. Yeats’ ‘The Stolen Child’ echoes around the big top, beckoning us into the magical world of Giffords Circus. A Celtic world of faeries and goblins; pixies, elves and leprechauns. Of dragons and unicorns, illusion and dreams. Bohemian and surreal. “… for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand”, continues Yeats’ verse, but the line is unspoken here. There is no need of the reminder: the lure is the cure for the cavalcade of ills that have befallen in the past fifteen months.

It’s Giffords twenty-first birthday this year, and they are certainly celebrating in style with ‘The Hooley’. Founded by Nell Gifford, with her ex-husband Toti, the family circus has changed direction every year, adopting various themes, embracing many cultures, and entertaining over a million people on the way. Nell sadly passed away in 2019, but her vision of a village green, vintage circus lives on. As the sun dips behind the trees, the crowds gravitate towards the main tent, towards an evening of mysticism and fantasy; and a chance not just to watch or imagine, but a chance to be at the centre of it all.

The evening is packed full of highlights, a carnival of fun, silliness and breath-taking skill and enchantment. The irresistible Tweedy the Clown, a Giffords stalwart leads the evening – or rather makes a chaotic stab at it – with his mix of pranks and prowess. Nancy Trotter Landry conjures butterfly wings from her hoops, making it look so effortless, before breaking into song with her ethereal voice. Similarly, aerialist Lil Rice (Nell Gifford’s niece, and successor producer) soars with her voice as she takes flight and floats above us. The fairy dust is sprinkled thick and fast as the acts tumble, fly and leap into the ring: the New Revolution Troupe from Cuba, smiling insanely through their equally insane acrobatics, Jonny Grundy and Manuel Artino, dissolving into their aerial hoop as one; equestriennes Rebecca Musselwhite and Lotte Seal, and the unearthly Andrejs Fjodorous, conducting his flock of doves in an awe-inspiring choreographed routine.

The list goes on, and the spell remains unbroken – even through the moments of pure comedy. And talking dogs, horses, and a cake-loving dragon. And you thought unicorns were mythical? Think again!

The Giffords Circus Band, led by James Keay, underscore throughout and follow the action with precision timing; their melodic presence following us out into the twilight as the show comes to a close. We don’t want to leave, but we know we must. We have lived our childhood dreams of running away with the circus, if only for a couple of hours. ‘We have held the jewel of our childhood up to our eyes’, to paraphrase the late Nell Gifford.

Giffords Circus is that perfect haven, with its mix of spectacle and intimacy. And as we head back to reality, we are buoyed by the certainty that, like the moon and the stars, the circus will return to us, and we can escape once more. On our way home, we flick through the programme and come across a letter; a dedication from Lil Rice ‘for Nelly’.

“… As we rake up the sawdust and dance our final dance, we dance it for you dear Nell. We will dance on for you…”



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Andrew Rees


The Hooley

 Chiswick House and Gardens until 11th July then tour continues around the UK until September. Visit www.giffordscircus.com for details


Previously reviewed by Joe this year:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021


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Ain’t Misbehavin’

Mercury Theatre

Aint Misbehavin

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Mercury Theatre Colchester

Reviewed – 20th March 2019



“The energy that flowed from the musicians was infectious as they recreated the nightlife of the era”


Stepping into the Mercury Theatre to see Ain’t Misbehavin’ was like stepping into the Jazz clubs of Harlem in the 1920s. The smooth tones of the music transported us deep into the life of Fats Waller, the iconic African-American jazz pianist, organist, composer and comedic entertainer. The show, not prescribing to any linear structure or story, explored the musical talents of Waller by embracing a selection of his work including ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ and ‘The Viper’s Drag.’ The songs were performed by Adrian Hansel, Carly Mercedes-Dyer, Landi Oshinowo, Renée Lamb and Wayne Robinson, who each, with their own impressive array of talents, added a unique flair to every tune. The quality was outstanding, as each performer amazed with their booming voices and effortless dance moves choreographed to perfection by the brilliant Oti Mabuse.

Making his directing debut, Tyrone Huntley proved his creative talents extend to offstage as well as on. He has ensured that every element of the show conveys the period and the true essence and freedom of Jazz.

At first, the absence of a storyline was noticeable and I caught myself thinking that the presence of scripted dialogue could have tied the songs together more efficiently. However, by the second act this thought was disregarded as we journeyed into more slow and sombre numbers.

‘The Viper’s Drag’ was a particularly impressive number, hypnotic as it stirred a silent excitement in the audience. Waller’s words filled the theatre, as Wayne Robinson smoked away, singing about getting high and dancing slickly across the floor. The audience watched as his feet slid across the stage, his body resembling ‘The Viper.’ The song ‘Black and Blue’ delved into the topic of race and importantly touched upon typical white American views towards black identities at the time. The power of the lyrics, “I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case, Cause I can’t hide what is on my face,” created a story and perhaps indicated Huntley’s vision of allowing the music to speak for itself.

It would be criminal not to acknowledge the excellent live band that performed alongside the outstanding cast. The energy that flowed from the musicians was infectious as they recreated the nightlife of the era enhanced by the stunning period set and costume design (takis).

Ain’t Misbehavin’ was hugely entertaining. A beautifully crafted piece of theatre from the Made In Colchester stable reflecting the talents of a bygone era.


Reviewed by Maddie Stephenson

Photography by Pamela Raith


Ain’t Misbehavin’

Mercury Theatre Colchester until 30th March


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Turn of the Screw | ★★★ | March 2018
Pieces of String | ★★★★ | April 2018
Europe After the Rain | ★★★★ | May 2018
Silence | ★★★★ | October 2018


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