Festival News: 26th June

The Gifford’s Circus Open Rehearsal provided a unique insight into the mysterious and intriguing world of a modern-day travelling show. The audience were able to observe the horses at various stages of training, learning intricate dressage manoeuvres (and misbehaving when they didn’t feel like performing!), followed by a whole company dance rehearsal and extracts from some of the thrilling acrobatic performances. Live commentary provided an exclusive understanding into this world and an opportunity to ask questions about circus life.

Later in the day, ten lucky members of the public enjoyed a sneak peak of what goes on behind the scenes at Gifford’s Circus, with an intimate backstage tour. From seeing the set being painted to the horses’ hair plaited, and even the queue for the company’s washing machine, this was a great opportunity to witness the other side of life for this famous circus troupe.

The Sheldonian Theatre reverberated to the sound of Land of Hope and Glory as this year's Festival Proms Concert took on a Last Night at the Proms theme. The orchestra made up of current and former MCS pupils came together for the first time only last Sunday and then performed a double bill on Friday. In the afternoon they performed to primary school pupils and then a full cost in the evening.

U6 pupil Ed Liebrecht made his Sheldonian conducting debut with a brilliant performance of Brahms' Saint Anthony Variations. Then the Magdalen Sixth Choir joined the orchestra for a rousing rendition of Copland's Old American Songs. The second half saw a striking performance of Saint Saens' Danse Macabre by Alex Gunasekera on the violin, as well as some strong orchestral playing in The Marriage of Figaro overture and a host of last night favourites! It was a joyous occasion and the standing ovation at the end showed it was enjoyed as much by the audience as it was by the performers.

Over in the Festival Marquee, Shami Chakrabarti spoke with passion and humour about the history and meaning of liberty, its roots in our recent history and the issues surrounding the latest threats to the Human Rights Act. She engaged the audience with anecdotes and examples whilst answering some probing audience questions (including “why would politicians vote to remove human rights when they are human themselves?”) to get us all thinking about our rights and responsibilities in the modern world.

Tom Piper captivated his audience as he took them through an informative and entertaining tour of his career and working process in theatre design. Quick sketches led to beautiful scale models; seeing the transition from these mock-ups to the stage was fascinating and Tom drew our attention to the subtle differences often made between individual performances and repeat productions. We gained insight into the equally important aspects of costume and lighting design. Tom finished with discussion of the process behind his recent major project working with Paul Cummins, installing 888,246 ceramic poppies around the Tower of London.

We ended the day with the Oxenford Tales, a piece created by Ben Parks and students from the surrounding Oxford area that re-tells The Knight’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales for a contemporary Oxford audience. The young company created their own text, songs and routines for this piece, resulting in a lively and funny performance that brought an original twist to Chaucer’s classic. It was wonderful to see how engaged the young performers were on stage, no doubt stemming from the fact that they were so heavily involved in the creative process from start to finish. It was certainly a rewarding evening for all involved.