REVIEW: ‘Circus 1903’, Birmingham Hippodrome


Roll up and experience the golden age of circus as ‘Circus 1903’ rolls into town.

Recreating an authentic turn-of-the-century circus inside one of the UK’s leading arts venues, ‘Circus 1903’ brings all the magic of the circus and all the fun of the fair to the Birmingham Hippodrome.

A daring, dazzling, dizzying demonstration of skill and agility, ‘Circus 1903’ showcases some of the most unique acts from around the globe. 

Step right up and come on down to revel in the wild, the weird and the wonderful.

Split into two halves, the first half of the production adopts the premise of the circus being set up, as the nails for the big top are hammered into the ground. As this is happening, we are treated to a look at some of the side-show acts – a gender neutral bearded person, a not-so-strong man, a man eating chicken, a snake charmer the snake finds a little too charming, and a contortionist, who relaxes on her upper body as the rest of her body runs in circles around her. 

In the second half of the production, the big top is raised, and the stage is awash with bold, primary colours, captivating us as our belief is suspended with more incredible acts.

Championing variety, we enjoy everything from the nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath stunts (which were really in tents), that defy gravity and balance on an unequal equilibrium, to the beautifully choreographed aerial ballets, one of which sees a couple locked in a romantic duet as they intertwine with one another. 

In between acts, the audience are entertained by the show’s very own Barnum – David Williams’ ringmaster, William Whipsnade. A great showman, adapting his material in response to audience participation and feeding off their energy, he delights us with magic tricks, jokes, and the odd profound statement that encourages us to embrace our inner child, to believe in magic, and to always be ourselves – for that is the most magical thing of all. 

Perhaps the most memorable part of this production, however, is when two elephants walk out onto the stage. Brought to theatres from the team behind War Horse, these magnificent life size puppets steal the hearts of an audience who gasp at the sight of them. Queenie is huge, slow, calm and gentle, an experienced theatre veteran who knows how to behave. Her young calf Peanut, meanwhile, is still learning the ropes, and leaps and bounds around the stage, making mischief, creating havoc, and trying to evade his handlers. He is proudly playful, enthusiastically excitable and adorably adventurous. Beautiful and lifelike, both with a distinct and loveable personality, the momentous appearance of these two elephants onstage is unforgettable. 

Whilst the sets, costumes and lighting is truly something to behold, the beating heart of this show is talent. Though the years of training, the commitment, the dedication and perseverance, the blood, sweat, toil and tears of the acts may result in something all-too-fleeting onstage, they create moments that will live forever in your memory. 

Circus 1903 is alive with artistry and athleticism, an astounding, astonishing amalgamation of accomplished acrobatics. 

Beguilingly bizarre, seductively strange and exquisitely exotic, ‘Circus 1903’ is a playground for the imagination. Extraordinarily remarkable, we are reminded that life is a circus, and this incredible spectacle is a joyous, colourful celebration of life.

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