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REVIEW: Giffords Circus – Any Port in a Storm

PUBLISHED: 22:37 19 May 2017 | UPDATED: 22:43 19 May 2017

Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

Candia McKormack

Giffords Circus – Any Port in a Storm, 2017 tour, at Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

You know I would have put digits to keyboard and told you about Giffords Circus’ latest show last night, but I find myself home with eyes still damp from crying… with laughter. Side-splitting, embarrassment-inducing laughter.

Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge Giffords Circus fan. Since Nell and Toti birthed their wonderful creation 17 years ago, they have been mesmerising us here in the Cotswolds – and further afield – with their bohemian, avant-garde charms. And I love them for it. One day I may just run off with the raggle-taggle gypsies… oh!

Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Giffords Circus - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

The first signs that Giffords have stepped things up yet another notch was a pre-show glance at their programme. Always well-produced affairs, the 2017 one takes things to another level, with lavish 17th-century costumes that would have the BBC costume drama department wafting their silver pomanders and flicking silken fans in green-eyed awe. London-based takis has taken over costume design and has to be applauded; creating costume for TV drama is one thing, but doing it for clowns, jugglers, contortionists and acrobats is another. Just imagine the logistics.

Nell Gifford - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Nell Gifford - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

‘Any Port in a Storm’ is a Baroque-inspired adventure, inspired by Nell Gifford’s own musings over the last year as she sailed the stormy seas of her own cancer treatments. Nell has made no secret of all that has entailed and, following the masked is-she-or-isn’t-she appearances at last year’s ‘Painted Wagon’ shows, she’s with us here this year, resplendent in brocade gown as Queen of the Spanish court. When she rides in on horseback, head high, steed rearing, the gasps of delight followed by the hushed breaths are noticeable around the ring. She’s on top form.

The Mustache Brothers - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 The Mustache Brothers - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

New to the circus this year are the astonishing Cuban acrobatic Sol Troupe – the ‘King’s Gymnasts’, if you will – who do things with skipping ropes that Malcolm McLaren couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams. A human pyramid? Skipping? I jest not. And cheeky ‘court urchin’ Dany Reyes charms with a glint in his eye as he wins over the Queen’s affections with his juggling skills.

Dany Reyes, Tweedy, and friend - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Dany Reyes, Tweedy, and friend - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

Alina Shpynova emerges from a giant clam as Venus before mastering the American Bar, Attila Csilo stands fearlessly atop two cantering steeds, Dany Cesar is magnificent in Zorro black on ebony steed, and Sergii Poliakov defies nature with his exquisitely beautiful hand balance and contortionism atop harpsichord. And if all this is sounding wondrously decadent as only Baroque can be, things get really Ken Russell when we’re treated to the Procession of the Burial of the Sardine, with giant, grotesque sea creatures paraded around the ring, and little man David Pillukat as hybrid mer-creature is sent flying above our heads…

The Sol Troupe - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 The Sol Troupe - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

Oh, but then the reason for my tear-stained eyes – and, yes, I’m actually still chuckling now – is the clowns. They, along with all else that I’ve mentioned, make this one of the most memorable Giffords shows to date. Irrational treasure Tweedy is joined by ‘hombres estúpidos’ The Mustache Brothers, whose madcap, slapstick japes and perfectly-timed acrobatics have us all in stitches; and already-mentioned David Pillukat come together in a grand parody of the entire show, and nail it. Of particular note are the brilliantly accomplished flamenco dancers Maria Madrid Trigo and Alejandaro Castel Lazaro, who start off dancing with fiery passion and latterly become Morecambe-and-Wise-style ‘not now!’ thorns in the side to Tweedy as he tries to perform his comic juggling acts.

The fancy chickens - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 The fancy chickens - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

Another comic treat for us all – still mourning the departure of Brian the goose – are the fabulous ‘fancy’ chickens. With a respectful feathered nod to the dearly departed Brian, these natural movers appear to positively relish strutting their stuff ringside… and when they do their own thing and stray from the choreography, it’s all the funnier.

Sergii Pollakov - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Sergii Pollakov - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

Oh, and lest I forget – the music! As ever, led by the brilliant James Keay whose plummy voice simply refuses to join in with the pidgin-Spanish japery, the band moves seamlessly from the sublime Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Latin-frenzied La Bamba… the timing, both comically and otherwise, is faultless.

Circus Sauce - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Circus Sauce - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

I’ve said it before, and perhaps – just perhaps – I’ll say it again: this is the best thing I’ve seen Giffords produce. Just keep raising that bar, chaps, and we’ll never stop coming.

Circus Sauce's killer banoffee pie - Any Port in a Storm, 2017 Circus Sauce's killer banoffee pie - Any Port in a Storm, 2017

Giffords Circus is touring until September 24. For a full list of dates visit www.giffordscircus.com

*******

CIRCUS SAUCE

The end to a splendid Giffords Circus show has to be dining in their very own ‘starlit travelling restaurant’, Circus Sauce. Using the finest fare, together with locally-foraged ingredients, the best way to describe the experience is partaking in a summertime al fresco banquet with your most colourful, engaging, bohemian friends and relatives.

On the night we dined, we were treated to asparagus tender stem, with cacklebean eggs and hollandaise; roast pork belly with shellfish, vinaigrette, kale and Jersey royals; followed by a banoffee pie that was so good I almost wept with the first spoonful. You owe it to yourself to book.

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