Hatched from an egg, peroxide blonde and winged; Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter tells the story of Sophie Fevvers, celebrated aerialist of Colonel Kearney's Circus. Set at the turn of the nineteenth century, with the backdrop of London, St Petersburg and Siberia, it is a dazzling, disorientating tale, full of magic. As with most of Carter's writing, there are equal measures of ribaldry and the grotesque, as grizzled Californian reporter, Jack Walser, pursues his quest to uncover the truth behind this self-styled Cockney Venus -sucked into the intrigues of the circus along the way. One of my favourite books, I blame it squarely for my romantic notions of circus life.
, which tours around the Cotswolds each summer, is also a favourite of mine. Founded by Nell and Toti Gifford in 2000, their shows embody the fin de siècle charm, glamour and imagery conjured by Carter's book. Lucky 13
, this year's show, is a charming collision between Romany travelling circus and English village green.
Alongside Nell Gifford
, mistress of the ring, the wonderful Nancy Trotter Landry
plays the part of outlandish Madame Andromeda. The two of them oversee tight rope walkers, tumblers, equine entertainment, jugglers, magicians, aerial artistes and slapstick comedy with a touch of bawdy humour that gleefully floats over the heads of the children. Underpinning it all, mischievous fun, a beautiful musical score and costumes straight from the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec.
To round off a magical night at the circus, if of course you don't have to rush off to tuck exhausted children into bed, is dinner at Circus Sauce
. Offering a three course set menu of local produce, with vegetables where possible provided by Folly Farm (Giffords base in Gloucestershire), this travelling restaurant doubles as the catering tent for the artists and production crew.
Under canvas, festooned with bunting, large wooden tables are laid with mismatched Emma Bridgewater
pottery and jugs of brightly coloured flowers. As with a supper club, the tables are communal and, some nights you might even find yourself sharing with members of the circus family. I don't think I've ever eaten a bad meal here. All the more impressive, when you take into consideration the small caravan kitchen, used to cater for so many people.
The menu changes continually; during our visit to Marlborough Common, we ate: deep fried colecannon, studded with smoked bacon and cheese, served with a yoghurt and herb sauce.
A warming bowl of courgette and potato soup; which after a sudden drop in temperature and a begrudging acknowledgement that autumn had arrived, we were most grateful for.
Rack of lamb, tender and satisfyingly pink, was served with garden fresh carrots, green beans, beetroot, doused with gravy steeped in alliums and a bowl of jammy damson sauce. Seared crisp with a sliver of well seasoned fat, we dismissed elegant table manners to ensure the bones were stripped of all succulent flesh; much to the dismay of the family seated with us, whose children followed suite. Sorry.
Dessert was panna cotta, topped with more of the damson sauce and a criss-cross of dark chocolate. For me this could have done with a little more wobble, but otherwise, it was just the right way to end the meal. Happily replete, a comforting end to a dazzling evening.
Come for the circus, stay for the food. Bring a bottle, bring a blanket but most of all, enjoy the stars...
Labels: Beyond Bristol, Dinner