A travelling circus in a field on a Sunday afternoon. No grandchildren as our excuse, just me, my brother Gerry (who has bought the tickets) and his wife Brenda. Total life experience 235 years. I’m in Derbyshire for a fun weekend.What better start than the Big Top?
Today’s experiences surprising. I believed there were no longer UK circuses that still had performing animals. I was wrong.
As the lights dimmed and the music resounded around the canvas walls the Ring Master resplendent in his red coat and top hat introduced the artistes.
There was the ubiquitous clown, the high wire act, the rope artiste, the knife thrower and the stilt walker but they were almost sandwiched in between the huge cart horse, trotting ponies, llamas, disdainful camel, cavorting zebras, writhing python, troupe of dancing ducks and pirouetting pigeons and doves. Then came the feisty fox and the racy racoon! What a parade!
I was surrounded by an enthusiastic audience of mums and dads and children laughing with delight at the clever tricks and ‘cuteness’ of the animals, As we clapped along to the music at first it all seemed like great fun and then I began to experience feelings of disquiet. I admired the fluttering pigeons, the enthusiasm of ducks careering on their bottoms down the slide, the small dogs enjoying riding around the ring on the backs of the ponies, cats jumping through hoops but still my reservations continued to increase.
I am of an age where circus animal acts were once ‘normal’ entertainment. Now there are only two circuses in the UK that have permission to use animals in their acts. So to see animals still being used for entertainment, was quite a shock.
The animals looked well cared for and any Sunday afternoon reluctance on their part was overcome with a sweet meat or two and gestures of fondness. The circus stopped using ‘Big Cats’ when legislation was brought in, but their livestock numbers certainly haven’t diminished. Looking after this range of animals takes some commitment and I found my jaw dropping with every entrance into the ring.
Jolly’s is an established circus family who are working hard to survive – and boy did they work hard. There was a real welcome at the booking office, help to find suitable seats for the aged (us), big smiles from the programme sellers, floor managers sorting the ropes and circus equipment, helpers in the kiosk serving candy floss and drinks. Later I recognised these people, they were also the ones performing the high wire and rope tricks. What versatility and commitment.
And then there’s the next Jolly generation already taking small starring roles. At several points I stopped watching the ‘Big Acts’ because I was mesmerised by the two tiny tots who are already part of the circus routines. The small (2 year old?) boy and the little (4 year old?) girl sometimes dressed in circus costumes, swaying to the music, whirling ropes, tapping their feet to the music. There was freedom for an occasional yawn or a sudden wandering off to see where the ducks had gone but mostly they seemed to enjoy every minute finally running in to join Mum and Dad to take applause centre ring.
Animals and children – both seemingly well looked after. A decent old fashioned family circus of the type I have seen many times over the years. I was interested to reflect on my feelings and how they have changed. Why am I feeling so disconcerted?
As I write I have a flashback to another Sunday afternoon earlier this year when I saw the Australian circus troupe Simple Space on the South Bank in London. No animals for our entertainment, just pure human strength, ability, agility and fun that left the audience going ‘WOW’. I quote from their publicity:
“Last year’s smash-hit circus show returns to London as seven young acrobats compete for your laughter, gasps and applause with non-stop, mind-boggling feats of breathtaking acrobatics”
The world has moved on and so have I. Today I felt I’d stepped back in time. No matter how well looked after the animals are I feel strongly that in the 21st Century they do not belong in a circus for my entertainment. So I won’t choose to see a circus with animals again.