Visitors to Newcastle-under-Lyme, home of the man regarded as the ‘Father of the Modern Circus’, can clown around during anniversary celebrations this summer.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the circus with commemorations across the UK.
Born in the Staffordshire town in 1742, showman Philip Astley is regarded as the father of the modern circus after “inventing” the 42-foot diameter circus ring and bringing together acrobats, clowns and trick riders for the first time in his show-stopping Astley’s Amphitheatre.
His home county is hosting a year of celebrations, including a free festival featuring a “feast of hands-on circus treats”.
Inspired by the acts and acrobats that made Astley’s original circus famous, AstleyFest brings the circus home to Newcastle-under-Lyme (August 4).
Visitors can try their hand at circus skills and watch circus acts including horse shows and military displays.
During July, Newcastle’s New Vic Theatre will tell the story of Philip Astley in a new play.
Astley’s Astounding Adventures (July 13-28) dramatises Astley’s journey from humble beginnings to international impresario.
The New Vic’s most ambitious show ever, it will combine the thrill of the circus with theatre-in-the-round.
Until 15 July, visitors to Newcastle’s Brampton Museum can discover more about Astley’s connection to Newcastle-under-Lyme and his early life during a free 12-week exhibition, Philip Astley – his life and legacy.
Objects on loan include items from the V&A Museum’s Theatre and Performance Collection on public view in Staffordshire for the first time, while circus prints, posters and costumes reveal more about Astley’s life and how his career influenced the performing arts up to the present day.
As a mark of Newcastle-under-Lyme’s place in circus history, Britain’s first permanent circus monument now also welcomes visitors to the town, one of six “Cities of Circus” named for the anniversary year as part of Circus 250 celebrations.
Pictured: Astley’s Astounding Adventuresillustration by The Red Dress, Art Direction by Sam Charrington.