Natalie Haynes: They call it the Great British Circus but other adjectives came to my mind

Watching tigers jump through a hoop or clamber on to a stool isn't exciting, it's just unpleasant

Related Topics

Visitors to the Great British Circus are greeted with plenty of patriotic Union Flags, right in front of an aggressively worded notice about how animal trainers have, "for far too long been the whipping boys of Animal Rights charities". Two hours later, when I'd watched horse, camel and tiger acts marshalled by a trainer flicking a whip, I presumed the phrase "whipping boys" had been used ironically.

That isn't to say that the animals I saw looked ill, underfed or poorly groomed. The coats of the horses and tigers gleamed, and the camels looked a great deal less threadbare than camels usually do, even when their fancy red jackets had come off. The problem with the wild animal acts at the Great British Circus isn't that the animals look as if they are being mistreated the moment the audience leaves, it's that the acts themselves are so demeaning and depressing that they amount to mistreatment in their own right.

When I was a child, tigers and camels were creatures of great rarity – you could go to a zoo or a circus to see them, and that was about it. But decades of cheap foreign travel and expensive wildlife documentaries have changed our tastes: watching tigers jump wearily through a hoop or clamber on to a stool isn't exciting anymore, it's just unpleasant. We know how tigers behave in the wild, and watching their majestic bodies contorted into parlour tricks is like watching a ballet dancer doing the hokey-cokey. That's why PG Tips doesn't try to sell teabags using a chimps' tea-party now: we would find it creepy, rather than funny.

The best animal act of the night, by far, was one using dogs. Ionut Ronescu (God help the Great British Circus if the BNP get a hold of their souvenir programme, most of the acts are from Eastern Europe) does a terrific Charlie Chaplin-style routine, trying to sweep up litter while four small dogs jump up and knock him over and hide behind rubbish bins when he tries to catch them. It's cute and funny, and the dogs look like they're having tremendous fun, which is a lot more than could be said for the four Friesian horses galloping round a tiny ring or walking on their back legs, which opened the show.

The dog act was a showstopper because it was inventive, and not disquieting, unlike tigers climbing ramps or miniature ponies running beneath horses' legs. The children next to me, who had munched candyfloss throughout the tiger act, bored and oblivious, were equally unimpressed by the sight of a camel rolling on the ground, to order. "Is it dead?" one asked, unconcerned. But a man being knocked over by dogs is pure slapstick, and they squealed in delight. The circus is obviously very proud of its wild animals, but if Martin Lacey, the circus owner and tiger trainer, paid attention to what his audience really liked, he might have been performing to a house that wasn't three-quarters empty on a bank holiday weekend.

But at every stage, the circus was making stupid, easily fixed mistakes: don't do a comedy knife-throwing act directly before an actual knife-throwing act, or there won't be any tension for the latter. Don't rig a spotlight behind a pole or it won't illuminate the stage properly. Don't waste good acrobats on a lousy Robin Hood skit. Don't include a ringmistress in sketches when she can't act for toffee. And don't finish your tiger display with a sequence where you hip-bump the tigers out of the ring. It doesn't look like a fearless man at one with these dangerous wild animals, it looks ugly and boorish. And incompetent, actually, since every hip-bump missed the beat in the music.

The Great British Circus is anything but great: it has focused on wild animal acts which have drawn massive negative publicity, and which don't thrill the audience. If it wants to stay in business, it needs to give the tigers to a sanctuary, and invest more time and effort in strong, innovative routines for the human performers.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power