Circus 1903 at the Hammersmith Apollo

Image above: Circus 1903

The circus comes to town

I love a good circus. I had the privilege of talking to David Williamson, ringmaster of the Circus 1903, which is currently rehearsing at the Hammersmith Apollo.

He himself is a very successful magician who specialises in close-up magic, but he has been touring the world with the Circus 1903 since its first shows in Australia in 2015.

It is a traditional circus he told me, with all the stage craft of a Cirque du Soleil, but with the emphasis back on the individual performers – acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, high wire acts – the circus as you might have seen it over a century ago.

Image above: Circus 1903 elephant, with David

Featuring … Queenie the elephant

It even has an elephant. Panic not, not a real one, but a lifesize puppet created by some of the team who made the puppets for Warhorse. For that alone I think it will be spectacular.

What does it take to be a good ringmaster? Showmanship. Sadly an auditorium the size of the Hammersmith Apollo, with 775 seats does not lend itself to close-up magic, but there is “a little bit of magic” in the show, says David.

Originally from Ohio, his is one of those tales of a love affair with performing. “Magic is a sub-culture” he says, “I grew up in  sub-culture of magic and magic history”.

Image above: David Williamson, ringmaster

Honing his magician’s skills in between dish washing and college

He grew up in Xenia, where his father was a farmer and a factory worker. He started performing while he was a student, in between college and working as a dishwasher and it was while he was still at college that he won the Gold Cups International Award of Excellence in Close-Up Performance, which kick-started his career as a magician.

He moved to Europe, has done TV shows here and toured with The Illusionists. In 2015 he was asked if he would like to be ringmaster of the Circus 1903.

“The narrative is very retro and theatrical” he tells me. “If you think how Cirque du Soleil reinvented the circus by subjugating the artists to the larger production, fast forward 30 years, Simon Painter [the creative mind behind the biggest magic shows in the world, The Illusionists, Le Noir, and Adrenaline] said ‘let’s flip the script, go old school and subjugate the production to the artists.”

Images above: Traditional acts

A “love letter” to the traditions of the circus

The Circus 1903 has all the production values of a Cirque du Soleil, says David, but it introduces the artists in a linear way, focusing on them as individuals, and for that they needed a ringmaster.

It may be traditional, but it is not small. “It’s a holiday celebration which is the Super Bowl and a rock concert all rolled into one” he says.

The circus opened in Australia, playing in Canberra, Melbourne and in Sydney at the Opera House, before moving to the United States to tour. They had a residency in one of the Las Vagas hotels, “the only family-friendly show on the Strip” before going on to tour in Singapore and the Middle East.

They have played at the Royal Festival Hall for three years, but this year their base will be in west London, at the Hammersmith Apollo.

Images above: Performers backstage at the Hammersmith Apollo

Expect all the traditional circus skills from some of the world’s top circus performers, several of whom have won awards at the Monte Carlo circus festival for their circus skills.

“Some of these acts are third, fourth, fifth generation circus families” says David, “Maria, a third generation high wire performer from Mexico, said to me: ‘This show is like a love letter to the traditions of my family.”

Image above: Queenie the elephant

“Jubilant, buoyant … uplifting”

It is the elephants though who will undoubtedly steal the show. Created by Warhorse veterans Mervyn Millar and Tracy Waller, Queenie is lifesize and magnificent.

“They went to the elephant compound at the zoo in Sydney to study how they moved and breathed. It has a real emotional impact when they step out of the mist on stage.”

What is Circus 1903 like? I asked David.

“A celebration of human talent and achievement. It is really heartwarming to see a family enjoying it together instead of being on separate screens.

“It’s jubilant, buoyant, there are laughs, scary bits, heartwarming bits. Some people have shed a tear. It is a very uplifting experience.”

Image above: Performers taking time out of rehearsals to watch the World Cup

Discounted tickets through The Chiswick Calendar

If you are thinking of going, take advantage of the discounted tickets we have been offered. Ticket price ranges from £28.25 – £50.75 (Full price £37.25 – £72.75).

Click on the link here: Circus 1903 discounted tickets

See also: Illuminature 2022 at WWT London Wetland Centre

See also: Jack & the Beanstalk at Lyric Hammersmith

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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