Giffords Circus review: ¡Carpa! A breathtaking Mexican fantasy fiesta for all the family

From mesmerising aerial mermen, seeming to float effortlessly in the air above the sawdust stage, to heart-racing knife throwers, galloping horses and Spanish dancers, the show is a non-stop carnival ride of talent, passion and fun.

Breathtaking is almost definitely an overused word when it comes to reviews.

But from the moment I stepped into the Giffords Circus tent in the grounds of Chiswick House and Gardens, the show was exactly that.

From mesmerising aerial mermen, seeming to float effortlessly in the air above the sawdust stage, to heart-racing knife throwers, galloping horses and Spanish dancers, the show is a non-stop carnival ride of talent, passion and fun.

Giffords Circus is a breathtaking Mexican fantasy fiesta for all the family. Photo: Andy Payne

Founded in 2000, by the late horsewoman Nell Gifford, who had a vision of a “miniature village green circus”, the travelling show and its maroon and gold wagons invite audiences to join them in a magical, mystery tour through circus history, and acts from around the world.

It’s not short of celebrity endorsements - from actor Hugh Grant dubbing it “genius” and “the most fun you can have in a tent” to comedian Dara O’Brien’s review: “A total triumph as ever. Marvellous in all senses… a brilliant family show.”

Previous shows have been themed on from the Russian classic novel War and Peace, in 2011, to Greek gods, in 2014, and the 1960s hippy Summer of Love show, ‘Xanadu’.

The 2022 show is titled ¡Carpa!, for the Spanish word ‘tent’, and explores the travelling theatres of Mexico and the southern USA in the 1920s and 1920s. Photos: Andy Payne

But the 2022 show, titled ¡Carpa!, for the Spanish word ‘tent’, explores the world of the travelling theatres which flourished in Mexico and the southern USA in the 1920s and 1920s.

The show threads together simple storytelling - a pair of star crossed lovers - with comedy, music, dance, and classic circus acts from juggling to the trapeze.

Unique moments included dazzling acrobats from the Cuban National Circus School - who threw themselves from swings high into the air without a moment’s hesitation - and an incredible feat by two dancers who suspended one another from their own braided hair.

The show features stunning acrobatics and dazzling horseback stunts. Photos: Andy Payne

Outside of the velvet-draped tent itself, the entire circus camp is an immersive experience.

Mexican and circus inspired cocktails were on offer at the bar, inside one of the caravans, and costumed dancers twirled through the crowds, offering out spicy peppers to snack on during the interval.

Director Cal McCrystal, who worked with Nell Gifford until her death from cancer in 2019, described the show as evoking “the sights and sounds of rural Mexico… [it’s] incredible art, music, history, and people will be our inspiration”.

The show kept its audience spellbound from start to finish. Photos: Andy Payne

¡Carpa! stars Mexican performers, including mask actress and clown Adriana Duch Carvallo, who is the heart of the show, along with Giffords’ stalwart Tweedy ‘Gonzales’ the Clown.

Ultimately, the show is exactly what it says on the tin - glamorous, with a welcoming, homemade glow; an exciting, escapist experience; and a fantasy fiesta for all the family.

And I haven’t even mentioned the men somersaulting from the back of one cantering horse to another.

The show is touring the UK this summer, and will next appear in Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Run away and join it, now.

For more information and tickets, visit: https://giffordscircus.com/