7 Ways to Celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the Circus

Come one, come all! It’s the 250th anniversary of the circus and London is full to the brim with fabulous circus events of all kinds. From grand roductions like Cirque Berserk! and festivals like CircusFest to aerial hoop classes and even a circus pub, here are the best ways to celebrate this London-born show… 

Lead image: See Fauna Circus as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe (photo: Einar Kling)

On Easter Monday, a new blue plaque was unveiled, commemorating the invention of the modern circus by Philip and Patty Astley. 250 years ago, the Astleys created a 42-foot ring, near what is Waterloo East today, and filled it with amazing feats of horse-riding, clowns and daring acrobats. Easter Monday in 1768 was the Astleys’ first show and it was a rousing success.

This new show, that later became known as the circus, entertained everyone from the general public to high society. The circus has grown from a small London-born show to a worldwide phenomenon, with shows like Cirque du Soleil thrilling huge audiences all over the globe.

With London being the birthplace of this well-loved performance, it is the place to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the circus. Enjoy classic circus as its finest, from slapstick comedy to hair-raising tricks and beautiful acrobatics, or venture into the future to see unusual and modern takes on this fabulously fun artform.

Find out where to catch the best shows in London below…


1 Cirque Berserk! at Harold Pinter Theatre, Leicester Square 
19 April-7 May
Showcasing the finest in traditional circus thrills and skills, Cirque Berserk! celebrates the circus’s 250th anniversary by bringing this treasured form of live entertainment bang up-to-date in a jaw-dropping spectacular created especially for the theatre. Combining contemporary cirque-style artistry with adrenaline-fuelled stunt action, this astoundingly talented international troupe includes jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, dancers, drummers and daredevil stuntmen. You can even see the world’s most hair-raising circus act – the legendary motorcycle ‘Globe of Death’. The show starts at 7.30pm Tue-Sat with additional shows at 2pm and 5pm on Sat and Sun. Tickets start at £10 for standing at £20 for seats.
Panton Strert, Leicester Square SW1Y 4DN; atgtickets.com

2 Battersea Circus Garden at Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2018, Battersea 
4-20 May
Every May, Wandsworth Arts Fringe shakes up south west London with a two-week eclectic programme of arts and culture that thrills and inspires. This year they have built the Battersea Circus Garden, hosting a variety of circus acts throughout the festival in a good old fashioned Big Top Tent! Watch the five young and superbly talented acrobats of Fauna on 12 May. With astonishing skill and inventiveness on stage, these performers draw parallels between human and animal behaviour in an entrancing display of skill and finesse. Tickets £14 (concs £10). There’s also The Hogwallops from 6-8 May, a family circus show that tells story of a chaotic, dysfunctional family of misfits through a blend of spectacular circus skills, physical comedy, clowning, juggling and slapstick. Tickets £13 (kids £7).
The Big Top, Shillington Park, 169 Este Road, Battersea SW11 2TT; wandsworthfringe.com

3 The Aeronaut, Acton
The Aeronaut is turning the Acton pub experience upside down and flying it way beyond the clouds. Every Friday and Saturday evening, Aeronaut presents some of the best aerial acrobatics and circus performers in the business. With a different show on every weekend, expect to be dazzled by the daring circus and cabaret acts.  One such show is Circus, Circus, Circus, back for a new year at The Aeronaut. Expect the unexpected as you are taken through the world of Acrobats, Silks, Hula, Fire and much much more. Would you like to run away with the Circus? Well, this is the show to find out.
264 High Street, Acton W3 9BH; aeronaut.pub

4 CircusFest 2018 at Roundhouse, Camden Town
3 April-6 May
CircusFest celebrates the future of circus: daring and diverse, punky and poetic. From the spectacular to the intimate, the festival showcases the point where circus collides with theatre, dance, live art, film and even virtual reality. Starting on the 18th and running until the 22nd of April, No Show reveals what lies hidden beneath the showmanship of circuses. See behind the flawless smiles and perfect execution of the traditional circus to show the wobbles, the pain, and the real cost of aiming for perfection. From the 19th to the 22nd April, see The Bekkrell Effect, performed by the French company Groupe Bekkrell. Inspired by physicist Henri Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity, watch Five performers hurtle around the stage, as things fall apart, atoms decay and relationships break up – below the surface is chaos, yet with enough distance everything can be beautiful.
Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town NW1 8EH; roundhouse.org.uk

5 Belly of the Whale at Stratford Circus Centre & Greenwich+Docklands International Festival
5 May & 23-24 June
Circus meets sculpture in this exciting new outdoor show from Ockham’s Razor, winners of the Total Theatre & Jacksons Lane Award for Circus at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016. The performers, like surfers on a wild sea, ride a giant semi-circular see-saw made of wood and steel, weighing 600kg, which creaks and groans as it transforms from a catapult, a gently rocking cradle, a tunnel, a slide – creating an ever-changing land and soundscape. You can catch this exciting show at the Stratford Circus Centre on 5 May or as part of the GDIF from 23-24 June.
Stratford Circus Arts Centre, Theatre Square E15 1BX; stratford-circus.com
Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, Cutty Sark Gardens SE10 9HT; festival.org

6 Circuses at Underbelly Festival at Southbank Centre
The Underbelly Festival is back for its 10th summer on the Southbank and its got an impressive lineup of circus acts this year. Running until 20 May is Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, a retelling of how the cast dreamed of the circus in a country without one and created a phenomenal new Ethiopian tradition through a mix of astonishing stunts, astounding circus skills and enchanted adventure. See high-flying acrobatics, death-defying tricks, clowning and towering feats of strength all performed to a thumping Ethiopian dance beat. Another Circus to look forward from Bogota, Columbia to is Circolombia. From 24th of May to 14th July, witness the explosive power of thirteen performers, showcasing mind-boggling circus skills whilst taking terrifying risks live on stage. Coupled with live music and singers, Circolombia delivers world-class, gravity-defying performances that you’ll never forget. With circuses performing at Underbelly Festival all summer long, this is a hot spot to celebrate 250 years of the circus.
30 The Queen’s Walk, Lambeth SE1 8XX; underbellyfestival.com

7 Circus Classes at AirCraft Circus, Woolwich
If you have been dazzled by the amazing feats of the circus performers and want to learn some skills, then check out AirCraft Circus. They host both adult and youth classes on skills such as trapeze, aerial silks, contortion and acrobatics. On Sundays, they have taster classes where you can see what they various arts are like, without committing to a full course. No previous experience is required, so take the plunge and try your hand at the spectacular arts of the circus.
7A Thames-Side Studios, Mellish House, Harrington Way, Woolwich SE18 5NR; aircraftcircus.com