In 1903 a circus coming to town was a huge deal. The parade of wagons and animals arriving in the town was quite a spectacle, and in many ways, just as big a deal as the actual circus itself. The circus would bring exotic performers from all parts of the globe to people who rarely travelled. The circus was full of wonder, grandeur and romance. It is this experience that the producers of Circus 1903 want to bring to audiences.

1903 was the year that Barnum and Bailey returned to America after touring the world, bringing with them the best acts from all corners of the globe. The producers of Circus 1903 have done the same. The performers come from various parts of the world and include acrobats, trapeze artists and contortionists. Simon Painter has produced many shows around the world in recent years, including The Illusionists, Le Noir – The Dark Side of Cirque and Cirque Adrenaline. As a result, he was aware of where to find the incredible performers that make up the cast of Circus 1903. Some of the performers are the only ones in the world who can perform these routines. Some are 6th or 7th generation circus performers.


When planning the concept of Circus 1903, it was clear that a circus needed some animals, but the producers also knew they needed to be able to tour the world. Teaming up with the award winning puppeteers from War Horse, the decision was made to create elephants for the show. Specifically: the largest ever performing African elephant and her rather excitable baby.

“We decided if we had any animals in this show it had to be elephants!” explained Painter.


The puppetry of the elephants requires considerable skill and expertise, with the puppeteers walking on stilts. Three puppeteers control the body of the large elephant, with a fourth operating the trunk. Despite the mesh overlay, Queenie is a heavy puppet.

Circus 1903 had its world premiere in Canberra and followed with a season at the Sydney Opera House. The circus has now arrived at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. Following the Australian season, Circus 1903 will travel overseas, with extensive bookings already confirmed.

It’s a show Simon Painter has been wanting to produce for some time – bringing back the golden era of the circus.

“What we’re trying to say is that in 1903 this would have been the most decadent circus ever!”

Circus 1903 is a circus extravaganza that is perfect for the entire family. It’s currently playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre until January 12th.

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