Brighton: traditional circus updated for the future

The tradition of big-top circus is combined with the sights and sounds of modern theatre as the whole thing gets a 21st-century make-over for Brighton.

Circus of the Streets 2015 plays the Brighton Fringe with dates in Preston Park from May 19-31. As the show’s general manager Glen Saffhill explains, it’s all about moving with the times and tackling the competition.

“If you can imagine all the competing entertainment these days, we are just living in a world where we have got to go head to head with it,” Glen says. “We decided it is about time we modernised the traditional show.

“Our incredible cast of 30 young performers are graduates from circus schools across the whole of Europe. They are here, in the UK to showcase their talent and passion in an adrenalin-fuelled two-hour spectacular.”

Glen is promising a mix of circus artistry and urban energy which is extreme on all levels, ranging from extreme juggling, trapeze, BMX and roller skating to acrobats, skateboarding and modern clowning.

“Obviously, a lot of aspects have to stay, but some of them we have decided to change and modernise.”

Clowning, for instance.

As far as this particular show is concerned, the days of white-painted faces, orange hair and big shoes are over. Instead of that kind of clowning, we get a comedy character, in this instance Grandma.

“Already you have got great comedy from the contradiction between Grandma who is old and a bit past it and the break-dancing that will be going on. At first she is chasing the kids, and then by the end, she is joining in with the break-dancing. She’s a wonderful character to bring in.

“We have tried to keep a lot of traditional things so we can still call it a circus, but for instance where you used to have ballet dancers and a chorus of girls, we have now got the break-dancers. We have got a troop of four Hungarian break-dancers, and they are fantastic.”

In the past, the circus might have boasted a line-up of horses; now you’ll get a line-up of BMX bikes.

“It’s just literally about moving with the times. You have got the kids that will always love circus and you have got the parents who used to love the circus as kids and have now got their own kids that are old enough to bring along. But it is also about trying to get the audiences in between, the students, the ones that have grown up but haven’t got their own children yet. It’s about bringing in that middle generation.

“By modernising it, we like to think we have opened it up to everyone.

“The original concept of Circus of the Streets goes right back to 2001. It had a run for a couple of short seasons, just testing it out, and then it went back into hiding, back into development. We are now ready to come out with the new, redeveloped version.”

As Glen says, they will be hoping it has a long time ahead of it out on the road, but it’s too early to talk about other venues. The point is they have got to see how it goes down when it is unveiled in Brighton.

“We have got to think carefully about where we take it. There are so many circuses out there we have got to be careful about where we go and how we go about encouraging people to come to our circus.”