To celebrate Nancy Trotter Landry’s return to Giffords Circus in 2021 we wanted to share this beautiful article that Nell penned about her close friend and confidant for the first issue of Giffords Backstage magazine in Autumn 2018…
Just once in a while, circus runaways become lifelong friends and treasured comrades. Nancy Trotter Landry is for me one of those people and is the most adorable friend and creative soul mate anyone could ever wish for.
My friend the living legend Sir Mark Palmer, who knows a thing or two about the essences of both England and glamour, recently said that “she is like one of the great stars, like Marlene Dietrich or something” and I agree with this. Nancy is an old-fashioned stage trouper, able and willing to deliver her magic and glamour for show after show, singing, dancing and making people laugh with her absurd comic personas. She is never vain and plays with the grotesque, the ungainly, the preposterous.
A great beauty, she never poses or worries about remaining beautiful while she performs – she seems free of that anxiety, an anxiety that I think prevents many female performers from being funny. She is liberated.
Nancy in Lucky 13 by Andrew Rees 2013
I have known Nancy since 2003 when she first joined Giffords Circus as an ingénue. We were holding an audition for performers and a mysterious girl with a deep serious voice kept leaving messages on my phone insisting we should meet but leaving no name or phone number. She was absolutely right, and in a way, she didn’t need to leave a number – maybe we were destined to meet.
Photograph by James Waddell 2004
I completely admire Nancy’s determination with her work in the circus. It is easy to fall in love with the circus, but the work is in reality repetitive, claustrophobic, pressurised, often very uncomfortable with occasional moments of freedom. Nancy uncomplainingly wire brushed the chassis of old ammunition trucks, sold candy floss, took tickets, charmed the public. Her talent for performing emerged and she sang and danced like a seasoned trouper – eccentric dances in two-foot-long shoes, Mac the knife in German, high kicking in a chicken head, playing Ophelia covered in gold paint. We used to go to the fabric markets in London looking for the perfect frog costume fabric, or the perfect flamenco dress fabric.
In pursuit of professional training Nancy enrolled at the rigorous Jacques Lecoq Theatre School in Paris. Parisian Nancy living in a tiny flat on the Left Bank, wrestling with the complex processes of the school (for example 57 steps to climbing an invisible wall), it was not easy for her. She dug in and stayed for the two years, returning to London shattered but ready. She then worked in films, her own shows … Cirque de Legume a two-hander clown show which toured to America and A Four-Part Tragedy a solo version of Faust, told by her clown, and then to my absolute delight returned to Giffords Circus. She was a true funny girl, somehow masculine whilst remaining a ravishing beauty. Her movement language on stage was so funny, grotesque but beautiful – the elusive funny AND beautiful.
Nell Gifford and Nancy Trotter Landry by Gem Hall 2018
Three years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was Nancy who sat at the end of my bed at four in the morning in the first terrible months of chemotherapy and read St. Lucy’s Day by John Donne out loud. “He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot of obscure, darkness, death: things which are not.” We found words and expression for the fear triggered by the cancer diagnosis – that we called the “Winter of discontent.” But the bad times rolled – cancer treatment was followed by an acute clinical nervous breakdown that lasted over six months – it was Nancy who came to my house to play with the children, and indeed Nancy AND Nancy’s lovely mother who sat at my kitchen table and made Christmas wreaths, and invited us for tea parties where we sat in front of the fire and the children-built cities from wooden bricks.
When my beloved aunt Theresa Gibson was tragically killed last year, Nancy helped me make the long trip to Northumberland for the funeral. I was once more under the thumb of chemotherapy and could barely walk, but Nancy helped me drive the children, Cuban strongman Pozo and Daniela the nanny to the saddest occasion of my life.
Nancy joined us again for this season playing the wonderful Bunty Velour. She has delivered an impeccable performance, always high energy, never complaining, shining with glamour and joy and pleasure. She welcomes the public, meeting them after the show. She helps put the tent up. She encourages and supports other performers. She never complains, never bitches, she is tough and pain resistant – compassionate and self-reliant at the same time. Our caravans have always been parked together and it has been a summer of shows but also – sunbathing, painting and drawing, brown rice and spirulina, and a lot of laughing.
Sometimes when I am with Nancy I laugh so much I feel as if my diaphragm is going to explode.
Nancy has an acute sense of the absurd. Cancer struck me again at the start of this year and once more it was Nancy who was there when the paramedics had to be called out one evening to the circus in May following an acutely dose of radiotherapy. Vy the time the paramedics left that evening they were starry-eyed with their bedside chats with Nancy (yes, she was sitting at the end of my bed, helping me.) Remedies of all sorts were delivered over the next few weeks to the caravans – herbs, oils, tinctures, pills – “We might start a centre for anthropological cancer medicine” she joked “or perhaps we could just drag the caravans off into the rainforest with the circus in tow…”
Walking with Nancy, shopping, painting, hanging out with the children, quietly shared observations of the company, Nancy is the most loving and the most loyal friend anyone could ever wish for and I feel very very lucky to have met her.