Wednesday, December 04, 2013

From London: Douglas McPherson on the Great Biz at Zippos Circus

Par for the tent:  Zippos Circus plays to a full house in Sunny Hove, England.  

Considering how hostile, in general, the Brits have turned on traditional circus, namely those including animals, it is good to learn of a possilbe trend in the UK favoring  a new look at the circus, even, in some quarters, at animal acts.  Some of the shows, like Zippos, are featuring a few animals.  Even those they don't may find a reviving market for just plain old fashion circus -- minus the modern baggage from the so-called new circus movement, be it thematic overplay, narrative action and asides, ballet, etc.

I asked Douglas McPherson, London-based journalist and critic, and author of Circus Mania - an excellent book that surveys the contemporary big top scene in the UK, if he might give me his take on how things are going, in particular, with Zippos, which has been cleaning up, plenty of packed houses, from Scotland to London Town.  I am always happy to hear of a tent circus anywhere drawing consistently long lines.  I thought some of you would enjoy McPherson's reply.

From Douglas McPherson:

I think Zippos did well this year because they played to the strengths of traditional circus - no new-circus pretensions or storylines, just good old fashioned family entertainment. The Roman riding was probably a big draw because there hasn't been an act like that in the UK for a while. They also had a good strongman who got a lot of local publicity with free stunts such as pulling buses with his teeth. They had a good route, with city centre parks in cities like Glasgow, but also went to some more remote places in Scotland like Banff and Forfar (both sell-outs) which were maybe a bit starved of big circuses. A big part of their success probably comes from Zippo himself, Martin Burton - he's very good at working with the media, has good publicity stunts and knows his audience. Zippos didn't have the Chipperfield cats, by the way - that's Jolly's Circus. Sadly, they're not allowed to have the horses in their Christmas residency in London's Hyde Park from now till January 5 (the city council doesn't allow animal acts) but in a way that's another example of Burton's business sense - his ability to adapt - because the Hyde Park gig is prime location for a circus at this time of year; they're part of Winter Wonderland, an event that mixes a fairground, skating rink, Christmas shops etc, so there's a ready-made audience. Zippos are presenting a family show in the daytime and a more adult show called Cirque Berserk in the evenings, so they've got all bases covered. Hopefully Nicky and the horses will be back in 2014 - I'm putting an interview with her on my blog later today

You can link to McPherson's blog, a visual delight, by the way -  listed to your right as Circus Mania..

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