Theatretrain - The Big Top Revisited
October 11, 2021

The Big Top Revisited

We took our 4-year-old to the circus recently. It had changed a lot since I last went. In my day it was mainly about animals – lions, tigers, elephants, performing seals and dogs, trapeze acts and of course – clowns. I also remember one year a man was fired out of a cannon up and onto a big net.

“Thankfully the days of teaching tricks to animals have been swept away.”

Thankfully the days of teaching tricks to animals have been swept away. Now you get loud recorded rock music, colourful lighting, and many different acts – most of them very skilful. There were many moments where I said wow to myself. There were unicycle riders, plate spinners, tight rope walkers and one man who somehow balanced on piles of reels that moved in different directions. It was genuinely breath-taking because you could see he was doing something that was risky. When he stood up for the applause at the end the beads of sweat stood out on his forehead.

“I’d forgotten the wonder of circus, the look and smell, the up closeness, and the sheer spectacle of it.”

I’d forgotten the wonder of circus, the look and smell, the upcloseness, and the sheer spectacle of it. And when you come away you see the little caravans, they live in. Circus is part of theatre. Each act has a little story, it has a wrap round audience, and they try to engage our feelings, our sense of awe and our humour, they play with our feelings.

Travelling theatre has a long tradition in Europe. In Shakespeare’s day the players went from town to town. They often used the space near pubs and taverns. In Italy they built a stage with curtains in the town square. The actors would arrive and go to the pub and find out who were the local people of note and then they would work these people into their stories and performances. Little wonder that actors were sometimes described as vagabonds as I am sure that the local worthies hated the power of a group of rebellious strolling players who were here today and gone tomorrow.

The circuses that travel the country today have kept alive the tradition of bringing performances to the people. They live a precarious life with injury and small audiences a constant worry. At this circus I could see that fear in the performers who so desperately wanted you to buy their overpriced drinks and popcorn.

You come away enlivened, your spirits in a better place because for 90 minutes or so you are transported to a place of what-will-happen-next?

You come away enlivened, your spirits in a better place because for 90 minutes or so you are transported to a place of what-will-happen-next? The stars of the show here were two BMX bikers. One rode a small bike and in a small space managed to perform hair raising and death-defying stunts and another rode a larger bike that he managed to bounce up and across spaces where every second you expected him to fall and break every bone in his body. I suppose part of us pays to see things we can’t do ourselves by people who go out on a limp (quite literally sometimes) just to entertain us.

Long may they continue to do so

It takes confidence to be a performer and for almost 30 years Theatretrain have been teaching life skills to young people at over 80 locations across the UK. Our classes in acting, singing and dancing and led by a team of exceptional teachers and Centre Directors. If you would like to know more about what our theatre schools could provide for your child’s visit our Facebook page or our website

Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

Related Articles

Coming out of your Shell

Embark on a journey of self-discovery with Theatretrain Artistic Director, Kevin Dowsett, as he delves into the transformative power of overcoming shyness. From personal anecdotes to empowering insights, explore how embracing vulnerability can lead to newfound confidence and empathy. Join us as we celebrate the journey from timid to triumphant!
Read more >

The Best I‘ve Seen

Join Kevin Dowsett as he delves into the captivating world of performers. From the timeless melodies of Paul McCartney to the effortless resonance of Frank Sinatra, and the profound humanity of Sir Derek Jacobi, each embodies a rare blend of talent and authenticity that transcends mere performance.
Read more >

It’s Not What I thought it Would be

In a recent article, reality TV star Gemma Collins recounted a formative experience at age 12, traveling with Theatretrain to the Czech Republic. While she saw it as a holiday, her former teacher reflects on the deeper significance of such trips, urging readers to embrace cultural differences for personal growth.
Read more >

Time for Change

In a world where education often feels stagnant, Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, heralds a much-needed shift. As he submits his book to the House of Lords, he advocates for a seismic change in secondary education. From embracing creativity to fostering partnerships with theatres, Kevin champions a dynamic approach.
Read more >

The Joy of Reading

Dive into the enchanting world of storytelling with Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain. Join us on a journey where literature meets creativity, exploring the profound impact of reading on young minds. Discover Kevin's insights on fostering a love for learning and empathy through the magic of theatre and literature.
Read more >

Two Planks and a Passion

Join Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, in celebrating the launch of his latest book. Tailored for educators and creatives, it provides 60 essential skills for crafting exceptional performances in the 21st century. From fostering group cohesion to honing theatrical prowess and nurturing life skills, discover the essence of Two Planks and a Passion.
Read more >