Circus turns 250 in 2018 – and it all kicked off in London. Mark its big-top birthday with these theatrical days out
If Kew Gardens’ collection of bellflowers is enough to get your pulse racing, wait until you see an aerial artist dangling from the roof of its giant Victorian glasshouse. At ‘Harmonic’, a performer from Cirque Bijou will swing above 10,000 plants inside Temperate House while cellist Rob Lewis plays a specially composed score below. All you need to do is pay the general entry fee, turn up at the right time and get a viewing spot that’s not obscured by ferns. Easy trapezey. Kew Gardens. Tube: Kew. Every Sat, Sun and Bank Holiday Monday until Sep 2. Performances run every hour 12.30pm-3.30pm. £16.
Watch a somersaulting troupe give two fingers to Isaac Newton on the South Bank. ‘Backbone’ has no time for the laws of gravity. Using circus lifts, bodies are gracefully thrown across the stage in unison, only to twizzle back down to earth like helicopter seeds. It’s a mix of acrobatics, dance, a little circus trickery and a lot of human mettle. Forget backbone, these performers have nerves of steel. Royal Festival Hall. Tube: Waterloo. Tue Aug 14-Sun Aug 19. £15-£30.
Not content with a bog-standard stage, aerial circus mavericks Ockham’s Razor have built a giant rocking seesaw to do their tricks on. It’s all part of the Circulate London outdoors arts festival – and the ‘belly’ will be on tour until September. Ockham are named after the philosophical principle that says the more assumptions you make, the less likely it is you’ll reach a solution. So if you want to make your mind up about the show you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself, won’t you? Outside Enfield Town Library. Enfield Town Overground. Thu Aug 16. Free.
Put aside all hopes for a quiet, undisturbed pint and embrace the grotesque, untamed blowout that is Lagunitas Beer Circus. The Cali-based brewer has already toured its twisted vaudeville show around Seattle and Chicago, and now it’s London’s turn. Spend a day with contortionists, burlesque dancers and sword-swallowers wearing enough kohl eyeliner to stock a Superdrug. Prepare to be shocked – it’s more about sideshow acts than clowns falling out of cars. But you won’t find any bears on trikes or hoop-jumping lions here – all profits are donated to the animal charity Wild at Heart, so you don’t have to feel guilty about getting that extra round in. Flat Iron Square. Tube: Borough. Sat Aug 18. Tickets are £15 at www.timeout.com/beercircus. Includes a beer on arrival.
It’s been 250 years since horse-riding star and original Greatest Showman Philip Astley organised the first proper circus on a scrappy bit of Waterloo marshland. To celebrate, the Southbank Centre is having a three-day party a sword’s-throw away from the original birthplace. At the Circus250 weekend, you can earn your big-top stripes at a Hula Hoop Workshop with Marawa’s Majorettes, warm up with the ‘Backbone’ acrobats and learn how to handle your balls at the Big Juggle. If you’d rather stay ringside than enter the lion’s den, try Circus250 Presents… a vintage show with acts like Irish strongwoman Aoife Raleigh (better known as The Heavy Duty Dame). It’s a regular three-ringed circus. Royal Festival Hall. Tube: Waterloo. Fri Aug 17-Sun Aug 19. Free.
Bread and circuses not enough for you? How about a day at Clown College topped off with a fat surf ’n’ turf burger from the BBQ Club? You can have both at Roof East, thanks to a new circusy makeover at Social Fun and Games Club led by Gerry Cottle Jnr. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he was raised among the sawdust of the famous Gerry Cottle Circus. Have a go at circus-themed crazy golf, face off at the Sluggers batting cages and watch out for the jugglers who’ll be roaming the roof. Roof East. Tube: Stratford. Until Sep 30. Free entry.
Find more events celebrating Circus250 at circus250.com
Put on a show of your own with a little help from this London trapeze school