In early March, Oundle was treated to a visit from the Circus Ginnett, which set up a big top tent to perform a show including a number of traditional acts involving clowns, hoopers, trapeze artists, acrobatics, juggling and a performing dog.
Circus Ginnett is one of the oldest, traditional circus and variety shows in Europe, dating as far back as the early 1800s. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Ginnetts from France were brought on prison ships to England, where they stayed after the war was over.
It was at this point that Jean-Pier Ginnett set up his first show, a pony and budgerigar act in Ludgate Circus, London. This grew into the UK’s largest circus. In the 19th century the Royal Hippodrome in Brighton was their permanent home, with room for about 1,600 spectators.
The Ginnett’s family tomb, adorned with the large figure of a horse is located in a Brighton cemetery. Ginnetts was closed during the First World War when the war office confiscated more than 200 of their horses for the war effort, and then performed its last circus in the 1940s.
In 1989 Michael Austin, a Ginnett descendent, restarted the circus. Today, the circus is run by Mr Austin’s son, Patrick, who has been touring the show across Europe and Asia for over fifteen years.
The other current members of the circus are Anke, who runs the show alongside Patrick, Ringmaster Laci, Antonio the clown, Neyalko, Veselka and Yana the five-year old hula hoop artist.
Everyone has their own favourite part of the show, for example we loved the elegance of the aerial dancing and the romantic acrobatic duo. Anke said that for many children in the audience “our performing dog, Vader is the star of the show”, along with little Yana who, this year has become “a big star”.
As with most circuses, everyone loves the clown Antonio, “who makes everybody fall off their chairs with laughter”.
Each season, the show takes on new artists from around the world, and each performer prepares a new act ready for the beginning of the new tour. Acts involving animals, however, are becoming increasing harder to perform.
According to Anke, not only are animals expensive to keep but “many councils don’t want circuses with animals to visit their venue”. Also, there is a problem with animal rights activists “who will come to protest and judge”, but Anke believes that, “most animals in the circus are part of the family and get treated as a family member. The artist and animal are like best friends and trust each other…our performing dog is like our child and we love him like one”.
On the Saturday afternoon we visited, parents and children alike adored the show, but the audience was admittedly below capacity.
Anke blames television and computers for diminishing numbers of people visiting the circus: “They see amazing things on Britain’s Got Talent, but they have no idea they can see these things live just around the corner at the circus”.
She encourages people to try the circus. “Our tickets are cheaper than most cinema tickets and you get more than one hour of live entertainment. People think the circus is old fashioned or just for children, but I think our show is for all ages. People just don’t know what they are missing!”
Rochelle Campbell and Rose Buchan