In the spirit of making good resolutions, I have decided to try and write a monthly reflective round-up of creative experiences; I being Melanie (Artistic Director of TESP), unless we have any willing guest writers who would like to take the mantle at any point, and those experiences being largely viewed through a Blackpool lens.
I started 2020 with a bang, literally; experiencing London fireworks from the Embankment and setting the year off in sparkling, airborne motion! At midnight, amidst kissing couples, my partner Steve leaned across to me and said, “We get this every Friday night in September at the end of our street and sometimes you don’t bother leaving the house!” Which is of course true and also acts as an additional spur to help me to appreciate, reflect on and share what we have right on our doorstep…
On Jan 1st, we went to the Southbank Centre; that confusing mass of concrete, empty spaces and staircases whose offers rarely appeal. Choosing Circus 1903 as our opening show for the year was based on a few factors but mostly came down to cost. There were £20 “gods” tickets available (as opposed to the starting-at-£85 price tags for other productions around) which, alongside travel, accommodation and general city-living costs, made them within our range.
One of the other appealing factors was the line on the website; “The show includes sensational life-sized elephants stunningly created by puppeteers from War Horse, putting elephants back in the ring as never before.” Having been privileged to work on War Horse for a few years, I know the sheer volume of performers, technicians and others who have had a professional connection to the production since inception but I also understand the years of evolution that it took to become the behemoth of onstage puppetry theatre it is now and whilst I don’t blame marketeers for trying to snatch a little of the mothership’s sparkle, not all shows have, in my experience, lived up to tagline expectations. Whilst in the case of Circus 1903, the elephants were perfectly adorable and anything that aims to remove the live animal element of performance gets a double Fonzie thumbs up from me, they were not the headline for this show.
Following the hullabaloo of 2018 as the 250th anniversary of circus in the UK (Circus250), it should be no surprise that “acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, trapeze and high-wire performers” can do extraordinary things! To watch a man flinging his wife around by the arms into multiple, mid-air, 20-foot high somersaults, or three guys flipping each other in cartoon-like spins across a balance beam, or a man stabilising himself on an ever-increasing pile of precariously placed and odd shaped bits of metal, is actually breath-taking. It should not be under-estimated the sheer heart-stopping nature of circus as an art-form in it’s own right; it is fabulous! All acts were well-deserved of the impulsive applause, whoops and ovations when they succeeded in their respective spectacles.
At the end, with smiling face and clapping heated hands heated, I turned to Steve to see he was also enthusiastic in his appreciation, but he leaned over the noise to say to me “It was good, but I don’t think it was any better than anything I’ve seen at Blackpool Tower Circus over the years” and he was, once again, right.
A couple of weeks later, I was at the launch of Showtown: Blackpool Museum held in the Tower Circus and there was something about the flashing lights at the entrance, giant mosaics and Caroli clown costumes along the corridors, gold and red curlicuing on every pillar and in every corner, huge domed roof, democratic seating in a round and the knowledge that this ring has secrets and surprises that have delighted audiences of all ages for over a 100-years that cannot be replicated. The fact there has probably been more multiple objects thrown in the air (including humans), more tantalising drum rolls, more tightroping, juggling, prat-falling and pie-facing been practiced here than anywhere in the world and you can feel it in the air and the fabric of the building makes it unique and ensures imitators just pale in comparison.
At a time when it is difficult to find authenticity in entertainment, my Southbank experience only emphasises to me once more that there is no better place in the UK than Blackpool to find a rich history of arts with roots firmly planted in audience engagement; the town will continue to tell its truth to those who choose to engage and one day, I feel certain, the tagline “Made in Blackpool” will be its own badge of quality and assurance for audiences.