We chatted to Lil about The Hooley, the new show from Giffords Circus playing at Chiswick House and Gardens from 24th June-11th July.

(c)Andrew Rees

Hi Lil – how excited are you about bringing Giffords Circus to Chiswick? We’ve been coming to London for years, in 2003 Nell and Toti took Giffords Circus to Hoxton Square (I went to circus school right next to the square 9 years later). Nell wrote about one of the first times in her book Giffords Circus The First Ten Years, “They loved seeing the horses out in front of the circus, grazing in front of the White Cube Gallery and they told us that the atmosphere of Hoxton changed a bit while we were there. They said that people were calmer, and they thought it was because of the presence of the horses.We are a bit bigger now and certainly wouldn’t fit in Hoxton Square so we now go to the beautiful Chiswick House and Gardens, even though it is a peaceful place it has a very different feeling to our other grounds in the countryside. We’re all excited about being in a city for 3 weeks!

Could you tell me more about your new show The Hooley? The Hooley is a show dreamt up by Nell Gifford and director Cal McCrystal which Cal then wrote and directed. Cal is Irish and he had wanted to do a Celtic themed circus show, so he has loved putting The Hooley together. He has drawn on many fairy tales remembered from his childhood. There are faeries, pixies, goblins, warriors, unicorns, and a naughty leprechaun in the show, who perform acrobatics, aerial acts and stunts on horseback. The main story is that a portal opens every hundred years and the fae can enter the mortal world. It is a particularly beautiful and poignant production as it is dedicated to my aunt, Nell Gifford, who founded the circus and passed away in December 2019.

How have preparations for the show been going so far? The show opened in Stroud, Gloucestershire (where we are based) in May and we are so overwhelmed by the great reviews from audiences that have seen it so far, we are hoping that London audiences will love it too.

What has performing in front of a live audience again been like? It is amazing to be performing in front of an audience again and we all feel privileged to be able to open and tour, especially when theatres cannot open. Obviously opening during pandemic restrictions has been slightly more challenging as we can only seat 50% of the audience that we usually have, but you wouldn’t know there was a reduced audience as everyone is so excited to see live entertainment they cheer twice as loud!

After performing at Chiswick House and Gardens – what is next in store for the company? We travel back to the West Country and take The Hooley to Bowood House in Wiltshire, a new venue for us, so that will be exciting. We then visit Stonor Park near Henley-on-Thames before returning to the Cotswolds.

What, for you, makes being part of a circus company so special? Giffords is a huge family, which was very important to Nell: we perform together, we eat together, we take the tent down and then put it back up at the next ground together. It is intense and lifelong friendships are forged through the season. It’s an experience like no other, and I love it.

By Emma Clarendon

The Hooley will play at Chiswick House and Gardens from the 24th June until the 11th July. For more information and to book tickets: https://www.giffordscircus.com/