Late 20th C
Newcastle Chronicle and Journal have an archive which includes photos of touring circuses which have mostly come to the Town Moor in Newcastle, including Austin’s, Billy Smart’s, Gandley’s, and Harlequin Circuses. This is the traditional stand where circuses pitched their tent, and has seen shows varying in scale and type. As the years have passed, there have been fewer animals performing, as their role in circus has been unpopular. Many of the photos are either promotion shots sent to the paper by the circus. In particular Moscow State Circus seems to have had a good marketing team behind them. Other photos were shots taken by the newspapers and are generally staged. A few are of performances, very few give a feeling of the lives of the travelling communities. A few of the photos have notes on the back providing a bit more information, most have a minimal caption and date. For instance, one photo from Austin Brothers Circus had Suzanna Galos, above described as a bespectacled lady in the ticket booth.
In the 1980’s many touring circuses still had animals – though not in anything like the scale of pre war circuses. April the Hippo, for instance, was the only one of her breed performing in the UK at the time. She was in the Tarzan film, Greystoke, and with Gandey’s she performed alongside a Zedonk, a horse and a bunch of cows!
Elephants have been sighted in Whitley Bay with Bobby Robert’s Supper Circus as late as 2010. It didn’t perform but punters were charged £5 to have their photo taken with her. In 2013 Zippo’s had performing Budgies and Horses. There was a furore when Jolley’s Circus pitched up in Darlington in 2013 with Lions and Tigers performing with members of the Chipperfield Family. They had not been mentioned in the posters. (Northern Echo 21 Aug 2013). The article says that the cats had bloodlines which were more than 20 generations in performance and a Classical Circus Association spokesperson said, the cats were “extremely comfortable with their life style.”
As in the past, some circus shows perform in venues rather than pitching up in a field. Eg regular productions are brought to North Eastern Venues by Gerry Cottle’s Circus of Horrors and his Chinese State Circus as well as shows with smaller runs like Circus Hilarious or Frank Wilson’s Flying Dragon Circus. Major international shows are also brought to the Arena in Newcastle, such as Cirque du Soleil who have toured at least three productions from 2008-2013.
The Arc (theatre) in Stockton is developing their programme with a focus on “contemporary” Circus, with small companies taking residencies, eg 2012 Stumble Dance Theatre came with Box of Frogs and in 2013 So and So Circus Theatre brought Backgammon for Beginners.
Local companies including Hang Aerial Dance, Fidget Feet, and Bare Toed Dance Company also perform in smaller regional theatres including Alnwick Play House, Whitley Bay Play House as well as Dance City. Circus Artists are also found performing as part of straight or fusion theatre companies, dance and Opera performances, as well as at night-clubs and occasional variety cabarets.