ExploretheArch Christmas show recalls the heyday of the big top. By Andrew Myers

The dust has barely settled from experiential theatre company ExploretheArch’s extraordinary sell-out November production, The House of Armistice, and they are already setting up for their Christmas show, The House of Circus. The inspiration for this show could not be more different – it’s based around the famous Billy Smart’s Circus.

At its height, Billy Smart’s Circus was a huge phenomenon. It was founded in 1946 by Billy Smart Sr. and carried on by his sons after his death in 1966. Televised performances of the shows were broadcast until 1983, drawing in audiences of up to 22 million people.

And in case you’re wondering what the Christmas connection is, Billy Smart’s Kinderkerstcircus was a much loved annual Christmas TV event in the Netherlands, on a par with the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special in the UK.

The live circus stopped touring in 1971, and one of the last shows was in Hastings. It must have been quite a spectacle. Housed inside a massive four pole ultramarine blue tent, the circus was in essence a travelling city, bustling with acrobats, musicians, dancers, a chef, dentist, barber and performers’ children with their toys.

Almost half a century later, Billy Smart’s great-grandson, visual artist Gregory Smart, moved to St Leonards, bringing with him a fascinating family archive of visuals and a treasure trove of vibrant anecdotes.

All of which have inspired the ExploretheArch team to create a new ‘house’ this Christmas. If you’re not familiar with their work, the team create unique theatrical events in the domestic setting of Archer Lodge.

ExploretheArch often take literary texts as their starting point, but they’re just as likely to base their work on personal experiences and reflections. Their interdisciplinary shows blend music, acting, narration, puppetry and ingenious set design to create truly unforgettable experiences. Everything from the music to the script is created from scratch for each production, devised through collaboration and improvisation. The composer for this show is Otti Albietz.

The keynote here is ‘explore’ – I have managed to see most of the shows over the last couple of years, and although I’ve no idea what to expect this time, I have absolute confidence it will be incredibly inventive and thought-provoking, and delivered with the team’s usual boundless energy and aplomb.

And in keeping with the circus theme, I understand they’ll be serving Maison du Cirque wine at the venue bar – I shall certainly look forward to sampling that.

Opening 21st Dec and running through the  festive period. Tickets are available from explorethearch.com and Printed Matter Bookshop and Bookkeeper Bookshop.

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