Giffords Circus 2016: The Painted Wagon

PUBLISHED: 15:27 20 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:18 23 May 2016

The Sheriff (Virgile Elana) and El Gifford. Photo by Gem Hall

The Sheriff (Virgile Elana) and El Gifford. Photo by Gem Hall

Gem Hall

Candia McKormack saddles up her trusty steed and heads way out west with Giffords Circus

Spencer Moran and Nancy Trotter Landry. Photo by Gem HallSpencer Moran and Nancy Trotter Landry. Photo by Gem Hall

Listen up, varmints… the notorious El Gifford is on the loose, and there’s a mighty fine bounty on her purdy little head.

Last seen riding out of Dodge City on her horse, we’ve been keeping a close eye on her sister Sarsaparilla Sal for clues as to her whereabouts. Keep your eyes peeled, your guns loaded and your chaps on standby…

The Sheriff of Dodge City

Dan Fortt in The Painted Wagon. Photo by Andrew ReesDan Fortt in The Painted Wagon. Photo by Andrew Rees

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Though the cow parsley’s still as blowsy as ever and the Cotswold village greens are, well, greener than green… we’re heading way out West (and I don’t mean the Forest of Dean) with home-grown Giffords Circus this year.

Picture this: you’re thrown back into the 19th-century Wild West – yeehar! – where the women are sassy, the horses your four-wheel drive, real men tote guns, and clowns drink four fingers of red-eye before breakfast. This is no place for softies… and yet, love is in the air.

Tweedy. Photo by Gem HallTweedy. Photo by Gem Hall

We follow the story of our young pioneers as they travel by foot and buffalo-drawn covered wagon (yes, buffalo… it’s huge!) to find a corner of this inhospitable land to settle. Along the way we meet with Sarsaparilla Sal in the town’s saloon (played by the über talented Nancy Trotter Landry) and her beau Handsome Eddie. Our Eddie (Spencer Moran) – clad head-to-toe in hero-white – heads up the bar’s honky-tonk band, ably assisted by Giffords’ longstanding band leader James Keay on keyboard; the music the seven-piece make is glorious, authentic Country with a generous helping of Giffords pizzazz. The big top benches are jumping all night with several hundred feet tapping (I do hope there’s a CD release).

As ever, audience members are entertained by the irreplaceable – and irrepressible – Tweedy Clown. Front-row seats beware – you will undoubtedly be picked on as he makes his way round the ring with pet iron and raccoon in tow. The humour is proper old-school slapstick, performed as only Tweedy can, and the wardrobe malfunctions concerning chaps, can-can skirts and red flannel combinations had us all crying with laughter. Cheeky!

Returning this year are the brilliant Bibi and Bichu. In The Painted Wagon they play bartenders in the saloon, juggling bottles and batons at eye-blurring speeds with remarkable dexterity, while Tweedy attempts the old bottle-switch trick. Quite brilliant. A newcomer to the troupe is 17-year-old whip-cracking, lasso-twirling Lilian Konyot who, for her tender years, has impressive command over her performance and played the cowgirl role brilliantly.

We also had the astonishing Lyrical Lyra, who went from Bible-bashing puritans – brandishing ‘Shame’ and ‘Repent’ placards and urging us not to enjoy the show – to scantily-clad, glad-eyed aerialists whose high hoop-work was mesmerisingly beautiful.

Nancy Trotter Landry. Photo by Gem HallNancy Trotter Landry. Photo by Gem Hall

Returning were the truly astonishing Ethiopian Troupe who not only played their roles with conviction – the unrequited love story and balancing act with two of them was heart-stoppingly beautiful – but had us all gasping with amazement at their work on the high vertical tension poles.

And then, of course, there is the enigmatic El Gifford who made a brief appearance on her horse – always one step ahead of the Sheriff (Vergile Elana) – with Stetson mysteriously pulled down over eyes, and bandana tied bandit-style round her mouth and nose. Played of course by the beautiful Nell Gifford… or was it? We may never know…

Well, Giffords, you’ve done it again – with the creative direction of Cal McCrystal, the loving production of Nell and Toti Gifford, and the passion, exuberance and talent of the whole troupe… The Painted Wagon is a triumph.

Watch it roll into a town near you and be part of the magic. Yeehar!

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Circus Sauce

You almost definitely won’t want to leave at the end of the show, so why not book a meal at Giffords’ own travelling 60-seat restaurant, Circus Sauce, where candle-lit communal oak tables and mismatched crockery are the order of the day. The three-course menu changes weekly, using local, seasonal – and often foraged – produce that is, like the circus itself, both satisfying and surprising.

The Circus Sauce experience is a delicious, stomach-pleasing, soul-nurturing one, where performers often swing by to say hello, and you may even be entertained by your chef!

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Giffords Circus is touring The Painted Wagon from May until the end of September – full details on the website. Tickets from £15 for adults; £10 for children.

To book tickets for both the Circus and Circus Sauce call 0845 459 7469 or visit www.giffordscircus.com

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