The towering canvas of the Lafayette big top billows signals of family fun across the capital from the heart of the Festival Fringe.
Now in its fourth year, the Underbelly Circus Hub has settled into its new home in The Meadows and hasn’t wasted any time in attracting the biggest international circus stars for Edinburgh audiences.
This year’s festival marks 250 years since Englishman Philip Astley opened a riding centre near Westminster Bridge, where he taught riding in the morning and amazed crowds with his ‘feats of horsemanship’ from a circular ring.
Astley’s circus ring measured 62ft in diameter, but it was later trick-riders that settled on a standard 42ft diameter (13m), which is still used as the international standard today.
Circus has been thrilling crowds for 250 years, nine years older than the United States following the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Brits are on our ninth monarch since its inception.
Back in 2018, the two tents of the Circus Hub are the Lafayette ‘big top’ - home to large-scale travelling performances from the likes of Tabernak and Universoul - and the Beauty ‘Spiegal tent’ - home from home for cosier, more intimate performances from the likes of Little Death Club and Courtney Act.
Lauren Eisinger, Festivals Programmer and Producer for Underbelly, told us that the key to the Circus Hub’s success has been variety and embracing 250 years of values.
She said: “One of the really beautiful things about circus is its ability to incorporate its heritage and the work that we’re seeing today is definitely acknowledging of its past values that are continuing.”
Technology has come a long way, but family should mean what it always has. Universoul Ringmaster Lucky Malatsi takes his greatest joys from seeing families put their phones down long enough to enjoy the show.
“For me, it’s seeing families together having a good time,” he said, “because now it’s really difficult to find a family - or anybody - to come together and just have fun as a family without technology and without their phones.”
Following up Universoul in the Lafayette, Québécois performers Tabernak engage in contemporary circus with a live band playing traditional music. English isn’t Antoine Carabinier’s first language, but in front of an audience he’s freer to interact with his audiences.
“What’s nice about [circus] is that it’s for everybody and there’s no language barrier.”
Antoine might miss Montreal but at least Tabernak is a circus family accompanied by their close personal friends.
“We’re lucky,” he said, “it’s family and friends that are with us and we’ve been working together for a really long time.”