Review of 'Circus 1903'


Ever since we saw the advertising for “Circus 1903” we were hooked - The promise of an old-fashioned circus on the Southbank complete with it's much-vaunted life-size elephant puppets (operated by performers from War Horse). We were most definitely not disappointed.

Performed in the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank “Circus 1903” contained a number of traditional circus acts, MCed by Ringmaster “Willy Whipsnade” (David Williamson) who kept the crowd entertained throughout with “audience participation” segments bringing generally small children on the stage to help him with some simple but effective magic tricks which was great considering there were a large number of young children there. Of course this did not always go to plan which was all part of what was quite a charming show. The stage was set up as if it was a Circus ground from 1903 with all performers dressed from the era also. The traditional Ringmaster patter introducing the “spectacular” the “wonderful” (etc) performer preceded any new act to the stage.

The acts are what you might expect with many performers seemingly plucked from the likes of the “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus” which in 2017 stopped operating shows: A bicycle trick rider, a juggler, a gymnast in a ring high above the stage, a high wire act (amazing in the confines of the hall), a knife throwing act (surprising in this day of health and safety – breathtakingly real and thrilling), teeterboard catapulting, a contortionist, a balancing act, etc. Each was performed with obvious skill to a contemporary music soundtrack though there were the occasional missteps (one of “The Lopez Family” on the high wire slipped and caught the wire under his arms – though there was a net below in any case) in only one situation did the performer insist on trying again as you would see in shows like Cirque du Soleil – who, interestingly enough, were referenced in the show by the Ringmaster who said that “Circus 1903” was intended to be more accessible and fun than Cirque – getting back to the simpler age of the Circus.

The programme at £5 was well worth the money providing backgrounds on all of the performers and containing some interesting material on the golden age of the circus. The theatre also had traditional Circus snacks including popcorn and ice cream (cones) which was fun to see also.

A great, fun and nostalgic circus with some truly fantastic performances. Well worth seeing. I have to say it is incredible to see this type of show in the confines of the Royal Festival Hall…who'd have thought?

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2019-01-02

Royal Festival Hall

Location: London (England)

Address: Southbank Centre Belvedere Road London SE1 8XX

Public Transport: TUBE Embankment TUBE Waterloo NRLOGO Waterloo

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7960 4200


Opened as part of the “Festival of Britain” in 1951, the SouthBank Centre is forever reinventing itself with cutting-edge, contemporary as well as classic entertainment and social commentary. Looking a bit dated the venue is always busy with a number of restaurants below the terrace by the river and beside it as well as regular food market behind the building on Belvedere Road. Great, though small, gift shop too. To me it is almost like a university campus at times…