Aerialists are flying high for Barnum’s Big Top revival by Co-op Juniors
PUBLISHED: 17:55 22 June 2018
Barnum, the circus musical, that made Michael Crawford, a West End and Broadway star, is being revived in an ambitious production at the end of this month by the Ipswich Co-op Juniors. Alan Ayres spoke to two local aerial artists who have been recuited to handle some of the dazzling stunts in the show
Working high above the circus ring in Barnum, a musical staged by the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company from June 28, holds no worries for sisters Kizzy and Tilly Packham.
They literally have each other’s lives in their hands as they swirl and tumble on aerial silks or the double trapeze in the Big Top.
Kizzy, 19, and Tilly, 21, are professional aerial artists from Gorleston near Great Yarmouth, now touring the south east of England with Circus Fantasia. But this is their first appearance in a musical.
“We’re really excited to be part of Barnum,’ says Kizzy during rehearsal. “It’s great to do something different, out of our daily show routine.”
They work out their act together, developing a synchronised gymnastic display of such strength and control it has the audience gasping. We’re trusting each other with our lives
Explains Kizzy, “We have to stay focused, you can’t lose concentration because what we do can be dangerous. Tilly agrees: “Even though we do our acts every day, we have to be very aware of what we’re doing so that it’s safe.”
Kizzy got the bug when she was just 13 and went to a circus where a performer was on silks.
“I wanted to try it, and my parents got her to teach me. I haven’t really stopped since!”
Sister Tilly wasn’t interested in circus at all.
“I was 17, at college doing A levels. When Kizzy’s trapeze partner couldn’t do the shows, I was asked to fill in for four days at the last minute. It was really scary.”
Kizzy laughs, “I had two weeks to train her from scratch and teach her the whole act. There were a lot of tears! Because she’s my sister I could push her more.”
Tilly adds, “I wanted to back out at the last minute, I didn’t think I could go through with it. But I did it and went on to join the circus!”
The sisters now perform together on double silks and double trapeze with Circus Fantasia.
Kizzy started on silks: “I think if you do silks first it gives you the strength to do almost any aerial act. I was doing so many different aerial acts until I decided the one I wanted to do most was the double trapeze with Tilly.”
Working together has brought the girls closer.
Says Tilly, “Working with my sister on the double trapeze, I feel like we have this new bond that we didn’t have before. We’re trusting each other with our lives. I feel our relationship has got a lot stronger. Everything we do, we’re watching what the other person is doing. I worry more about Kizzy when we’re up there.”
The pressures of touring and performing are demanding, but the sisters never fall out.
“Because we’re sisters, we sometimes argue. But when it comes to the performance, before we go into the ring we always make up,” says Kizzy.
Tilly agrees: “You have to be in tune, because you can’t be working that close, with that much trust, and be angry at each other.”
Heat can be a problem in the Big Top, even with a British summer.
Explains Tilly, “For the silks, the more difficult tricks are towards the end of our act. When it’s hot, it’s really slippery and our hands can slip quite a lot. Doing the wrap for the big drop at the end (when the silk is coiled round arms and legs), we need to make sure everything is right so we don’t get tangled. It’s all about being safe and making it look good.”
For Barnum director Oliver Brett, the biggest challenge is integrating the circus skills into the musical.
“The circus elements are a storytelling device to be merged with the staging and choreography. It’s an ensemble piece where the cast is as big a part of the action as the principal characters. They’ve worked so hard on learning circus skills, juggling, plate-spinning, stilt walking and more.
“Most of the cast are onstage all the time, they set the scene, becoming all these characters that help Barnum to tell his story. We’ve never tried to do something like that before. Performing in the round in a Big Top, you have to rethink the way you stage everything.
“The addition of Kizzy and Tilly’s aerial skills on silks and trapeze at the end of the first act and in the finale will have the audience on the edge of their seats. I saw their performance with Circus Fantasia, it looked so polished and impressive.”
Barnum is in the Big Top at Wherstead Park, Ipswich from June 28 to July 1. Tickets from wolseytheatre.co.uk/barnum or call 01473 295900. Best availability Thu 28 June 7.30pm, Friday 29th 3pm.
You can find out more about Circus Fantasia and where you can see them on Facebook at circusfantasiauk or on Twitter @circus_fantasia