Category - Backstage News

Meet the creatives at Giffords Circus…

Star of the 2020 show, The Feast, Lil Rice and acclaimed director Cal McCrystal, together with long-time Giffords Circus’ musical director James Keay and production designer takis, are set to create a storm with brand new show for 2021, The Hooley.

From the imaginations of Nell Gifford and Cal McCrystal, The Hooley is set to be a showstopper.

“There will be fairies, trolls, pixies, leprechauns, wild horses, Celtic music and dancing and all the madcap magic and mayhem that Giffords is synonymous for,” said Cal McCrystal. “Nell and I had a great time planning this show and being an Irishman I can’t wait for rehearsals to start and to finally create what promises to be a most magical and poignant show.”

Giffords Circus had originally planned to tour The Hooley in 2020, but the Covid pandemic lockdown meant that rehearsals had to be put on hold and artists return home. Instead The Feast was devised, Giffords creative response to the challenges of socially distancing and not being able to put on a show and in August – October 2020, the unique dining show opened to great acclaim.

The Hooley will see a welcome return of Giffords favourites, Tweedy the clown, champion vaulter Rebecca Musselwhite and singer/dancer Nancy Trotter-Landry. Nell will continue to live through the Circus in what is a truly family affair as Lil Rice, Nell’s niece, fulfils a unique position as Producer and the new face of Giffords Circus.

(from left to right) Cal McCrystal, director, Andy Bewley, assistant director, Nell Gifford, producer and takis, production designer (c) Gem Hall 2019


Nell Gifford 1973 – 2019

Co-founder, producer and artistic director of the much-loved Giffords Circus based in the Cotswolds. She ran away with the circus when she was eighteen and fell instantly in love with this forgotten art form. She read English at New College Oxford and then joined the first circus that came to town before working on several shows in the UK before joining Circus Roncalli in Germany. Circus Roncalli inspired Nell and her fiancé, Toti Gifford, a farmer’s son from Cheltenham, to start their own circus, which they called Giffords Circus. The show first appeared at Hay Festival in 2000 and has toured the Cotswolds, home counties and London, having entertained over a million people since, beloved of locals, farmers, rock stars, royalty and runaways everywhere. A fellow of Gloucestershire and Hereford University, Nell published four books about circus life and history – Josser: The Secret Life of a Circus Girl, Who was…Philip Astley? The Inventor of the Circus and Giffords Circus: The First Ten Years, and most recently Nell & The Circus of Dreams. Nell has co-written a cookery book which will be published in March 2020 – GIFFORDS CIRCUS COOKBOOK: Recipes & Stories from a Magical Circus Restaurant by Nell Gifford & Ols Halas (Quadrille, £27).

above Cal McCrystal looking at the costumes designed by takis for Xanadu (c) Gem Hall 2019

Cal McCrystal – Director

Since 2012 the show has been directed by Cal McCrystal, whose credits include Paddington, Paddington 2 and One Man Two Guvnors. Maverick, naughty and uncompromising, Cal leads the company through a three-week rehearsal period at the Giffords Circus farm in the Cotswolds Cal McCrystal is delighted to be returning for his ninth year as director at Giffords Circus. He was born in Belfast and trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama and at École Philippe Gaulier. As an actor he has worked extensively in television, theatre, film and radio. As a writer/director his productions are regularly seen worldwide. He is Physical Comedy Director for the Royal National Theatre’s West End and Broadway hit, One Man, Two Guvnors and is Comedy Director for the acclaimed clown routines in Cirque du Soleil’s touring circus, Varekai and erotic cabaret, Zumanity, now enjoying its 10th successful year in Las Vegas. He directed the original Mighty Boosh shows, winning the Perrier Award for Best New Comedy and Iolanthe at the English National Opera. He returns to Giffords straight from rave reviews for the Atomic Saloon Show that debuted at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival before moving to Las Vegas.

Lil Rice – Producer

Lil Rice studied philosophy and theology at Glasgow University and decided that she might not make a very good vicar. After writing to her aunt Nell, she started her circus career at Giffords Circus in 2011 dancing and singing in the cast of War and Peace as well as assisting Nell and the director Irina Brown. Lil went on to study circus and business at The National Centre for Circus Arts in London graduating with first class honours. The act that Lil created is a unique – singing while performing acrobatics in a cyr wheel. After winning the Deutsche Bank business plan award she went on to perform in, produce and tour the UK and Europe with her circus company Alula Cyr. Alula Cyr went on to set world records, perform, speak and teach at circus festivals and tour their allfemale, self-produced show HYENA across the UK, France, Finland and Sweden. In 2017/2018 she wrote and released a country/blues album with her band – Lil & Ollie, before returning to Giffords Circus in the summer of 2018 to assist Nell and star in the 2019 show Xanadu with her singing cyr wheel act. Lil carries on Nell’s legacy for Giffords Circus for Nell’s twins, Red and Cecil.

James Keay – Composer & Musical Director

James spent the nineties listening to Elizabethan music in the attic of his home in Winchester. Later he learnt the violin and piano, studying composition in Cambridge before running away to the circus some years ago. He spent a winter in a smuggler’s cottage in Deal writing an album with the folk singer Sam Lee.


takis discussing costumes for Xanadu with Nell Gifford (c) Gem Hall 2019

takis – Production Designer

Greek designer takis studied set and costume design, at the Romanian National University of the Arts in Bucharest, technical theatre arts at RADA and design methodologies at the London College of Fashion. He is currently completing a doctorate at Aalto University in Finland. Opera and ballet design credits include set designs for Phaedra (Royal Opera at the Linbury Theatre), the ballet The Little Mermaid (Finnish National Oper), and designs for Monteverdi’s Ulysses’s Homecoming, Cavalli’s La Calisto, Handel’s Ottone and Haydn’s Life on the Moon for (English Touring Opera), Isabeau, La rondine and Die Fledermaus (Opera Holland Park) and Semele (Royal Academy Opera). His many theatre designs include Stovepipe (National Theatre), Ditch (Old Vic), and The Memory of Water (New Vic Theatre/SJT). His major musical credits include Five Guys Named Moe, The Toxic Avenger and In the Heights (West End), Flashdance (UK and Oslo), and Hairspray (UK). For