Arts & Entertainment

Circus 1903

Photo: Martin Ollman

It was called “the greatest show on earth” and arguably, it was. The original circus stretched human skill, imagination and ingenuity to astonishing limits. Now, the creators of The Illusionists, Simon Painter and Tim Lawson have recreated the thrill, sensationalism and magic of vintage circus in their new show, Circus 1903.

This is the world premiere of the show, which will then travel to the US. The troupe of circus performers has been sourced from small and traditional circuses around the world and includes a performing Mexican family doing a high wire act that has been passed on through six generations.

“It’s the first time I’ve worked with real, true hardcore circus people…they’re cut from a different cloth…I’m the only person in the entire cast who can’t do a standing back flip!” says David Williamson. An award-winning comic magician (who was also in The Illusionists), Williamson insisted on being Ring Master when he heard about Circus 1903.

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the show is the mother and baby elephant act with puppetry animals created and manipulated by the puppeteers behind War Horse.

“I don’t think people are going to be prepared for the emotional response they’re going to have, because the moment you see them – they’re gorgeous works of art…and then they begin to move and you forget that they’re puppets,” explained Williamson. Evan Jolly has composed original music for the circus, including an evocative theme for the elephants.

To ensure authenticity, a historian was consulted about costumes. The program itself includes comic acrobats, a speed juggler, a bicycle artist (who performs a “ballet” with a bike), Russian Cradle (aerial acrobats), Icarian Games (foot jugglers), a contortionist, a knife thrower, magic, comedy – old world theatre that is enhanced by modern production and technologies.

As Williamson puts it: “It’s pure showmanship, old school style.” (RB)

Dec 18−29, 3pm + 7pm. Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House. $48.90-$74.90. Tickets & info:,


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