Yup, that’s right: circus as we know it today can be dated back to April 4 1768, when one Philip Astley opened a small outdoor enclosure in Lambeth that played host to equestrian tricks, later adding acrobats to keep up with increasing demand.
A quarter of a millennium later and we’ve mostly ditched the animals, but circus remains a vital art form: here are the best shows coming to London this year.
Remember Zippos? Its trad tented circus has been thrilling kids silly for decades. Its new show, ‘Legacy’, is paying homage to Philip Astley, who founded the first ever circus.
Blackheath. Until Apr 10. £9-£27.50.
Roundhouse’s CircusFest is a showcase for the genre’s cutting edge. Ellie Dubois’s ‘No Show’ explores the pressure put on female performers to look fragile while being frankly terrifyingly strong.
Roundhouse. Apr 18-22. £12.50.
Full of riot grrrl energy, ‘The Bekkrell Effect’ features a tough, all-female crew who tumble, collide and literally play with fire.
Roundhouse. Apr 19-22. £15-£25.
Get wet with ‘Soap’, a show inspired by bath time. Scantily clad performers slip and slide their way through splashy routines in, on and around the tub (BYO rain poncho).
Underbelly. May 3-Jun17. £21.50-£41.50.
The one you’ll want to run away with
Giffords Circus’s ‘My Beautiful Circus’ unfolds in a tiny, plushy, old-school tent, with acts including Pozo the Strongman, Tweedy the Clown and a troupe of super-cute performing dachshunds. Adults will love the luxe costumes. Kids will love being close enough to see the animals poo.
Chiswick House & Gardens. Jun 28-Jul 9. £15-£32, £5-£22 concs.
The no-frills-thrills one
Kitted out in grungy shorts and T-shirts, Aussie acrobatic troupe Gravity & Other Myths could have rolled in straight off the beach. But don’t let the laidback vibe fool you. In their hotly anticipated new show, ‘Backbone’, they compete with each other in sweat-soaked feats of strength, demonstrating there’s nothing kitsch about defying gravity.
Southbank Centre. Aug 14-19. £20-£30.
The one with Isabella Rossellini and her dog
Isabella Rossellini’s ‘Green Porno’ was a beyond-loopy show about insect sex. This autumn she’s back with ‘Link Link Circus’, a riff on animal biology – joined on stage by her adorable and presumably somewhat confused performing dog Pan, who’s dressed as a chicken.
Southbank Centre. Oct 23-24. £28-£34.
Find more big-top extravaganzas at our London circus page.