What an absolute delight to watch Gifford’s Circus new show the Hooley in the glorious setting of Chiswick House and Gardens. It is like a hymn to the power of live performance. From the uplifting ceilidh music played by the Gifford’s Circus Band, led by musical director James Keay, to the awe-inspiring summersaults of Cuban New Revolution Troupe or the breathtaking equestrian work of Rebecca Musselwhite, Lotte Seal and Lil Rice, this is a show that is sure to get your pulse racing, your hands clapping and your cockles well and truly warmed.
The show’s Celtic theme was decided upon by writer and director Cal McCrystal in discussion with Nell Gifford, before her untimely death in 2019. Nell’s niece, Lil Rice has stepped up to produce the show and it works wonderfully, with the circus cast appearing as glamorous fairies or mischievous goblins and long-serving clown Tweedy as a leprechaun against a mystical backdrop of Irish ruins designed by takis.
One of the most magical acts in the show is Andrejs Fjodorovs with his doves and snow white dog and there is also a hauntingly beautiful arial hoop duet performed by Jonny Grundy and Manuel Artino. There’s plenty of comedy, too, with Nancy Trotter Landry providing a foil for Tweedy’s antics (as well as some great singing and hoop work).
But the great thing about Gifford’s shows is the sense of ensemble work among the cast. This isn’t just a variety performance of stupendous acts, but a proper show with everyone part of the story being told. Even Fjodorovs, the dove man, dances an Irish jig at the end, and although you can tell this isn’t his most comfortable moment on stage, he joins in with the zeal and gusto that everyone gives to every moment of the performance, wether they are centre stage or singing in the background. It makes for a joyous occasion, and you can’t help but carry some of that joy out into the world when you leave the tent.
The Hooley is playing at Chiswick House and Gardens from Thursday 24th June – Sunday 11th July then after on tour.