It’s been many years since I last went to a circus and yesterday I went with Jamie and his mother. Generally when entertaining him the enjoyment is a vicarious one watching his wonderment at the event. However I found Zippo’s circus, if not enthralling, certainly engaging. The circus is a traditional form of entertainment. It is mistakenly thought that the Romans invented it, but in fact troupes of acrobats were performing in earlier civilisations in Egypt and China. In the Middle Ages circus performers were to be found at fairs. It was an Englishman Philip Astley, a notable equestrian, who after serving in the the Seven Years war (1756-53) invented the modern circus. He gave riding lessons by day and in the evenings horse tricks supplemented by clowns and acrobats. The significant innovation was that this was a ring in the round. It would be recognisable today though the animal rights movements of the 70s curtailed the more exotic menageries. It still celebrates the human body and what it can achieve. The modern circus epitomised by Cirque du Soleil is more a light show with music and dancing but has traditional clowns, acrobats, tumbler and gymnasts excluding. trained performing animals.
At Zippo’s we saw a acrobat on stilts on top of a wheel that rotated faster and faster through the air, a supple contortionist, Odka from Outer Mongolia, that did a handstand and fired a bow and arrow with the toes of her outstretched vertical legs at the target, the Lucius team of four daredevil riders on motorcycles that zoomed inside a cage at high speed, limbo dancers, musical clowns, a performing dog, horses and canaries. This was the second show of the day and my only disappointment was that it was poorly attended. £26 for a ringside seat did not seem a lot but I reckon it was only 25% full. There was a large troupe, the big top, the horses – so the expenses would be significant too. Jamie like most kids of his age (7) loves to play games on his Nintendo but clearly also enjoyed more traditional forms of children’s entertainment. Above all the circus exudes the joy and excitement of live performance. The motor cyclists might just collide, the contortionist fall off her perch, the stuntman off his sphere. It did not happen. There are no safety devices. The only mishap was an Arab stallion dropped one right in front of us. Whether it’s the romance of running away to it or the thrall of watching, the Circus is surely enduring for many more centuries.