Review: War and Peace at the Circus
By Jayne Bennett
Thursday 25th August 2011
GIFFORDS circus has this year taken on an epic challenge: to bring a (very, very abridged) version of Tolstoy’s immense novel of the Napoleonic war in Russia, War and Peace, to the big top.
The ambitious idea works, however, thanks to the massive efforts of Russian-born director Irina Brown and an enormous cast of performers who include actors, a 15-strong orchestra and some very talented circus stars.
It’s very difficult to dive straight in to such a complex and complicated concept, but Nell and Toti Gifford have done just that and the result is entirely authentic.
Granted, you won’t find any clowns with big red noses in this performance, but you will find plenty of magic and mysticism induced not just by the talents on display but also by the period costumes, music, lighting and props used.
The first half is largely given over to the actors, but there is still a chance for the world-renowned hand-balancer Pat Bradford, and his wife Kate, to give the audience their money’s worth early on.
Both Toti and Nell give the equine lovers in the audience an opportunity to admire their horses, but Natalia Demjen’s silks act, followed by the Pavlov Troupe’s mesmerising parallel bars act bring the first half to a tumultuous end.
As Napoleon marches into Moscow, the performances get more intense, with flying knives, fire and horses kicking up their heels, but all’s well that ends well as the doves of peace settle.
Throughout the performance Tweedy the clown is the constant happy thread which ties the show together and keeps it from becoming altogether too serious. He deserves a special mention for his pre-show gig with ‘Keith’ the iron and for keeping the audience members on their toes - especially those unlucky enough to be sat next to the gangways!
There are just a couple of weeks left to catch this year’s Giffords extravaganza, and although the cast and crew must be getting tired, they really don’t let it show.
If you can find a couple of spare hours to catch a show this summer, then Giffords’ Russian spectacular makes a refreshing change from a ‘traditional’ circus.
Giffords circus is currently located on Marlborough Common, with performances twice daily until Sunday, August 30, when it moves on to its final venue of Cirencester’s Stratton Meadows.