The biggest and bestest show is back in town. Circus 1903, with its performing elephants Queenie and Peanut, is once again thrilling the crowds with death-defying feats, sensational displays of skill and grace; split-second timing in acrobatic excellence, unmatched accomplishments of balance and poise, startling feats of strength performed at dizzying heights, and exploits of equilibrium and eccentricity unmatched on terra firma. And that’s just what the programme tells us, writes Michael Holland.

David Williamson in the role of Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade was already out among the audience pulling silver dollars from behind young wide-eyed children’s ears, and finding the chosen cards of adults in up-close magic tricks when we arrived. Before long the roustabouts and circus folk were erecting the big top and practising their acts.

The Daring Desafios from Brazil had us all on the edge of our seats with their see-sawing skills, catapulting each other high into the air where they would tumble and spin before landing back on the see-saw to send their compadre back up into the heavens. Several times it looked like one of the trio was going to get hurt and the gasps from the spectators reflected that danger.

Then The Great Rokardy was balancing – high atop a pedestal – on wheels and rollers that went this way and that, with some of the crowd unable to watch; all of us certain he was going to crash to the floor.

There were strong men and lithe women hula-hooping and juggling and spinning partners with their feet as though they were spinning a beach ball. The Elastic Dislocationist from Ethiopia contorted her body in ways that I could not comprehend, even though I was watching her put her spine and neck and hips in positions that I never knew there were positions for. After a while of seeing these amazing deeds my body was tense and taut, and at times I had forgotten to breathe with the excitement of it all, so was happy for the respite afforded by Willy Whipsnade’s rapport with the kids, who all won our hearts. He had them up on stage doing tricks and truly being a part of this big, big show.

The end of the first act was Queenie using her amazing strength to pull the big top up and into position.

In the second half there were more thrills and spills, and more kiddies from the audience included in the performance. Queenie and Peanut enthralled once again and the big finish was The Wheel of Death! The Magnificent Marvellos, two completely mad Colombians, did things on a spinning contraption that no sane person would attempt. My heart rate went up as they went round and round.

Circus 1903 is a fantastic production; acts from all around the world brought together for our delectation, and all held together by the showmanship and bonhomie of David Williamson, a giant of a man in more ways than one.

I have now run out of adjectives. I’ve overplayed the superlatives. See this show if you can.

Circus 1903 will play at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre until 5th January. Times: Varying – See website. Admission: £29.50 – £125. 

circus1903.com

Photos: Dan Tsantilis