Monday, 27 September 2010

The Circus

A review written by the wonderful G.W. Stonier after visiting Bertram Mills' Circus, at Olympia in 1939. Taken from one of our copies of The New Statesman.

What makes the circus? The animals, the acrobats, the clowns? All three? If one had to be dropped, I suppose it would be the clowns; there is not much room in modern entertainment for the comic-pathetic. At Islington, as they totter about between acts, like passers-by after an explosion, as they blow trombones or dangle sausages or unroll incredible lengths of sleeve, they already have a superannuated look; at Olympia (where probably they are better paid), they retain a certain importance and virtuosity. Olympia boasts a woman clown, enough dwarfs to make a Snow White, clowns with electrified noses, clowns riding in palanquins. They are expensive to suit the show. And the best clown of all is at Olympia. It is some time before you are aware of him, a tramp lighting matches among the audience. Once he has fixed you, you do not forget him. The white bears bow, the Liberty ponies bounce round the ring in buxom waves, round and round changing positions: you look to see what has become of your tramp. There he is sitting in some stall or high gallery, striking matches and gazing with anxious attention at giggling lovers or a staid couple in evening dress who look past him in horror. He comes nearer: he is wearing a bowler hat, he has an Assyrian nose, huge white lips, and sad eyes which never flicker. Folding his coat tails he assumes the attitude of Le Penseur on the seat in front of you. From time to time he disappears, to return in another phase of his pilgrimage. I watch him carrying a plank which he tries to affix wherever he sees empty seats adjacent or on opposite sides of a gangway. Late in the evening, before disappearing altogether, he comes round with a broom to sweep up fag-ends; and in moments of inattention - he has a skivvy's dumbstruck admiration of people as he leans on the broom. This anonymous genius, whom I shall remember when I have forgotten everything else about this year's circus, is called, I believe, the American Hobo, ....