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Circus 1903 - Sydney Opera House (NSW)

Presented by Sydney Opera House And Arts Centre Melbourne In Association With Tim Lawson And The Works Entertainment

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

The Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

Until 29th December, 2023


Run, don’t walk, to see this production. Believe in magic again this holiday season as you run away to Circus 1903.

Circus 1903 may just be the most spellbinding and triumphant way to entertain, not just the kiddies this holiday season, but anyone who’s ever imagined the unbelievable. Produced by Tim Lawson and directed by Neil Dorward, Circus 1903 brings the majesty and spectacle of the circuses of the early 1900’s directly into the iconic Sydney Opera House’s concert hall. This is artistry and entertainment at its finest and deserving of the standing ovations at the finale of the show.

Under the guidance of the Ringmaster (David Williamson), Willy Whipsnade - a name he chose before coming to Australia - audiences are welcomed into a time long gone, where young children would dream of running off to the circus to join the vagabonds, the weird and wonderful, and learn to perform feats of inhuman capability. Thankfully the animal cruelty of the time has been replaced with War Horse inspired puppetry, bringing an extraordinary sized Elephant, and her baby, Peanut, into the Concert Hall to stunning, and charming, effect.

Circus 1903. Photo credit: Ken Leanfore

Williamson proves himself adept at handling the production from its outset, entertaining audiences with rueful glee as he throws popcorn into the crowd and charms you with the youngest, and sweetest volunteers brought onto the stage for some pantomime-esque magic. In fact, Williamson’s interactions with these pint-sized volunteers provides the largest laughs, as the audience melts from their cuteness and the hilarity in seeing children get some mischievous glee from their carers’ purposeful failures from rigged sideshow games, and a whipped cream-infused clown school. 

But the main attraction of Circus 1903 are the sheer feats of artistry under the big top itself. In the first act, the travelling circus sets up the tent that will encompass the magic and wonder within, but not before treating us to some death defying acts. Whereas the second act brings us into the circus itself.

Oskar Norin, Karl Wiberg and Anton Persson have a game of teeterboard as they fling themselves into the air without wires or strings, relying on each other to catch themselves and balance each other throughout the 360+ degree flips. David Schnabel treats us to a gorgeous ballet on a moving bicycle - don’t try that at home kids - while Axel Perez and Starr Dee perform the Rola Bola which sees the pair spin and fling each other around and around like a literal rag doll. Mekdes Kebede makes us squirm at her contortionist abilities that will have the dentists in the hall have heart palpitations, and Yani Stoyanov and Valeri Tsvetkov prove that if you have enough muscles you can balance another man on your head. And of course, the star juggler Francois Borie shows that most things can be juggled in large quantities, even brimmed hats!

The sheer feats of trust, faith and bravery that goes into every movement is more than just an act, it’s a memory that will last in the minds of each and every audience member.

A circus of course is not complete without some aerial wonders, which Yoann Benhamou and Emiline Goavec provide to our great amusement as they soar around the stage in straps, cascading over one another like water. Meanwhile, Elena Suarez Pariente hangs from her hair, flying majestically around the stage as she twists and turns, making the audience thankful for strong conditioner. 

The beauty of Circus 1903, as reiterated to us by our Ringmaster, is that even though what we are seeing may only last two, three or five minutes in parts, we are actually watching thousands of hours of practice put into action. The sheer feats of trust, faith and bravery that goes into every movement is more than just an act, it’s a memory that will last in the minds of each and every audience member, from the smallest to the oldest. And that, in itself, is magic.

Circus 1903 is a must see for the whole family this holiday season before it leaves Sydney and enters the Arts Centre in Melbourne from the 4th January. See it and get ready to believe again in the magic of what humans are capable of.


Circus 1903 is currently playing at the Sydney Opera House until 29 December 2023. Circus 1903 will also appear at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre, from 4-14 January 2024.


What: Circus 1903

When: 21 - 29 December 2023

Where: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

Price: From $79.00 + booking fee


David Williamson The Ringmaster Ringmaster

Oskar Norin Teeterboard

Karl Wiberg Teeterboard

Anton Persson Teeterboard

Axel Perez Rola Bola

Starr Dee Rola Bola

David Schnabel Bike

Mekdes Kebede Contortion

Elena Suarez Pariente Hair Hang

Yani Stoyanov Strongmen

Valeri Tsvetkov Strongmen

Yoann Benhamou Bungee Straps & Duo Trapeze

Emiline Goavec Duo Trapeze

Francois Borie Juggler

Mohammed Ibrahim Icarian Games

Hamza Abdo Icarian Games

Nyron Levy Puppeteer

Chris Milford Puppeteer

James Donovan Smith Puppeteer

Mikey Brett Puppeteer Peanut

Will Palmer Palmer Elephant Handler

Amelie Leroy Elephant Handler


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