Politics

Politicians ‘not professional enough to be clowns’ as performers and punters weigh up votes in election circus

Even the world of escapism can’t escape politics.

Decisions made on the green benches of parliament could be life or death for the circus. Like many businesses, it is walking the wire between rising costs and cash-strapped audiences.

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As part of our Bench Across Britain series we visited a circus tent in south Leicestershire where punters try to forget the world for an hour or so – only to be confronted by Sky News, asking them about the general election.

A crowd watches on at Circus Cortex in Leicestershire

First, we spoke to the performers: high wire walker Ksenia Archer literally dropped in on our bench while still attached to her safety harness.

“Our costs have gone up miles high,” she said.

“Unfortunately, our customers’ costs have gone up as well. We’ve not been able to increase ticket prices – they have had to go down, to ensure we get any customers at all.”

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She added: “The circus was invented in England – it’s over 250 years old. But unless we get support we will be slowly dying out.”

High wire walker Ksenia Archer
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High wire walker Ksenia Archer says the circus’ ‘costs have gone up miles high’

At Circus Cortex, the performers thrill and petrify, suspended from ropes, spinning in the air, balancing on precarious structures – but what scares them is empty seats.

The industry has campaigned for VAT to be reduced to 5% on ticket prices, as happens in some other European countries, and as happened briefly in the wake of COVID-19.

Paul Archer, circus director, said: “Politicians do not understand the difficulties we have: bringing performers into the UK [means] we have increased visa costs; we have difficulties with transport costs going up. The circus industry needs help.”

As for the performers, behind the masks and grease paint they have the same mundane struggles as everyone else.

In the dressing room, dancer Rebecca Peters said she is watching the pennies. “Rising prices, shopping and stuff, travelling to London for auditions, it’s just got very expensive,” she said.

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Dancer Rebecca Peters
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Dancer Rebecca Peters agreed the cost of living is biting for performers

The Circus Cortex tent sits in a field in south Leicestershire, one of the Conservatives’ top 40 safest seats, where in a recent poll the Tories led Labour by eight points – but that was just before right-wing showman Nigel Farage entered the arena.

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Even though he is standing in Clacton, the Brexit ringmaster could take chunks out of the Tory vote. Several audience members at the circus seemed to have lost faith in the larger parties.

“I’m literally done with the current government, including Labour,” said HGV driver Denzil Furtado. “I don’t think they are offering something substantial.

“I’m really convinced by the recent lead of Nigel Farage. He has the charisma of being a prime minister actually.”

His partner, software developer Priya Fernandes, disagreed: “We should give the current government one more chance to prove what they are,” she said.

“Inflation is coming down right now – I think they deserve a second chance.”

Denzil Furtado and Priya Fernandes
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People, like Denzil Furtado and Priya Fernandes, are split on who to back in this year’s election


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Others in the audience said they are not going to vote – even though there are things they want such as tackling the cost of living or lowering taxes, or more support for single mothers, or reducing immigration or improving public services.

But they just don’t see their vote making a difference. Some are making an unenthusiastic choice.

Programme manager Margarita Grigorian said: “I will only go with Labour because I don’t want to go with the Conservatives – and the other parties are too little and too weak.”

Keir Starmer recently told Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby “I’m not running a circus”, but the sense in south Leicestershire is that they want a show – a strongman, something daring, and eye-catching.

Asked who the biggest clown was in this election, Mr Archer replied: “They are not professional enough to be clowns.

“You have to understand humour and timing – they haven’t got any of it, have they?”

Circus director Paul Archer

With days left until polling day, we are entering the finale, and the audience seems bemused – still trying to work out what it all means.

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