'It's going to be mayhem!' — Tweedy spills the beans on his Massive Circus

With Tweedy's Massive Circus getting underway this May 2024, Gloucestershire's favourite clown chats to SoGlos to share what audiences can expect when the little big top comes to the county this summer.

By Chloe Gorman  |  Published
Tweedy the Clown is taking Tweedy's Massive Circus on tour this summer, with the show coming to Cheltenham in July 2024.

Gloucestershire's favourite clown, Tweedy, is heading out on his very own tour this year, taking a break from Giffords Circus to bring Tweedy's Massive Circus to audiences across the country. 

The first performance takes place on Friday 24 May 2024 within the hallowed grounds of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon — and SoGlos caught up with Tweedy before the action gets underway. 

Having been touring with Giffords Circus for over 15 years, what made you want to do your own circus this year?

I decided to take a break from Giffords this year. I was going to chill out a bit — that was my wife's plan anyway! Then Underbelly approached me about doing a show with them and I couldn't resist it.

I'd worked with Sam Goodburn before — and it's his little tent, which I'd worked in previously — and the beauty of it is, because it's small and it's also not blackout, you can see everyone's faces and it's very intimate, which is great for a clown show.

I quite often put on my own shows in theatres when Giffords hasn't opened and I've finished pantomime, so it just seemed liked a good opportunity to do my own show in a little big top.

What can audiences expect from Tweedy's Massive Circus? 

If you just imagine the clown is in charge of putting the circus on — and if people know me, or my character, they'll know that it's going to be mayhem! It's going to be chaos. 

It's called Tweedy's Massive Circus because it was meant to be massive... but its in a tiny tent, so things don't quite fit, the acts don't show up, lots of things go wrong. It's a very comedy-driven circus show.

It's all visual, because we've got this little big top, it's kind of like letting a kid loose in a playground! 

One of the other performers, Sam, is also a clown and has lots of skills, and basically at the end of rehearsals — which finish around 6pm — me and Sam are living on site, so it's a bit like the grown-ups have gone and now we've got this tent to play in.

So there's lots of physicality, lots of slapstick, some stunt-type things. 

There's a very exciting new act that Sam's doing — which is a bit like a high wire, but he's not walking on a wire. I'm not going to say what he's walking on, but that's a world premiere. I don't think anybody's done that before, what he's walking on. Nobody's been silly enough! 

There's lots of very silly moments. It's very chaotic and fun for the whole family.

How are preparations going?

We're in Stratford setting up. It's quite small grounds that we're on, so it's quite hard to make everything fit in, but that's part of the fun! 

What's been the most challenging aspect of running your own show so far? 

I wanted a bit of a narrative to it. There are two other people in the show — Loren O'Dair, who is an actress who also does aerial and music; and Reuben Greeph, who is another actor, who can unicycle and again is very musical — so bringing two worlds together and getting that narrative to work.

You don't want too much narrative, because people don't want to have to concentrate as it's just a fun show. So that was the tricky part, bringing in this theatricality but not having it dominate and creating the right balance of story arc, circus and silliness. Getting all the ingredients just right.

What's been the most fun?

Having this unique small space that is the little big top.

The poles are especially designed that you can climb up and down them. Usually when you have an aerial act you'll have an electric winch, which will lift the acts. In this show everything is done with what's called counterweighting — so somebody else climbs up the pole with the harness on, then when they climb down, the person in the middle of the ring gets lifted up. We've been playing a lot with that, so there's a lot of weird things happening in the air!

Just having these new big toys to play with has been the most exciting thing. 

Is there anywhere you're really excited to visit on the tour?

Where we're opening now is a big privilege and feels quite funny that we're in the Royal Shakespeare Company grounds with our little show. That feels very nice to have been invited to do that!

Cheltenham and also Henley, I've got lots of fond memories because we play there with Giffords Circus every year as well. 

Then into London — London we've got to change the show up a bit because we're moving out of this little big top to a Spiegeltent. They're quite posh! I feel like we're going to have to find shabby outfits because it feels a bit too posh for a Tweedy show! It needs to be a bit broken! 

But that's in Cavendish Square and that's amazing as it's right by Oxford Circus, slap bang in the centre of London, so I could pretend I'm on the West End!

Speaking of the West End, do you have any more theatre shows in the works? 

Not planned. I've got this tour and I've got the pantomime, of course, but at the moment I've not thought that far ahead. 

I would like to come back again, but who knows, I don't know yet! 

Will you be doing any more Shakespeare, following your performance in A Midsummer Night's Dream? Is there a Shakespearean character you'd love to play?

I honestly don't know. 

I'm not that much of a Shakespeare buff, but Lear's Fool seems to be the highest clown-type role, so I'll say Lear's Fool — with David Tennant playing King Lear! 

I hope someone reads this and thinks 'that's a good idea...'

Image © Everyman Theatre Cheltenham

You're still involved with Giffords Circus, so is a return to the ring on the cards in the future?

I think I'll be back. The plan was always to take a year out and I think that will be the case. I can't say 100 per cent, but I'm certainly not saying that's it, I'm not doing that again. 

For this year's show I was in production meetings and things like that, but the actual putting together of the show was all Cal McCrystal. Early on in the creation, like what the theme was going to be, I'm in on — and I always put my own comedy things into the show — but it's very much Cal's creation. 

What's next for you? Do you have any big dreams that you'd love to achieve? 

I've been writing a short film. I would like to do some film stuff, basically doing what I do on film — playing around with that would be good. It's finding the time!

I've got a kid's picture book coming out next year as well — it's due to be coming out at the start of next year with Random House. I can't say much else about it yet, but that's being published in various countries, so that's exciting. 

Hopefully my one for older kids is going to get published, as well. 

Is writing something you enjoy?

I did quite a bit of writing in the pandemic, because we all had a bit of time then! But I've always been writing routines, or certain bits of scripts, or if I'm doing my own shows I write the full scripts.

Nell (Gifford) had her kid's book and I did the book tour with her — she wanted me to come along because it would be fun, I got speaking to various people and they said I should do my own kid's book and I did, it just took a while — as these things do!

I do enjoy writing. I enjoy so much stuff, it's just there's not enough time!

You're a man of many talents!

Well that's the beauty of being a clown, you don't have to be absolutely amazing at something.

Like with music, I can play a bit on lots and lots of instruments, but I'm not very musical at all! Same with circus skills, I unicycle, I do trapeze, walk on wire, I do lots of things.

That's one of the joys of being a clown, is that you can just do lots of different things and add that to your repertoire.

It's the variety that I love. I think that's my attention span as well, I'll fixate on something and then move onto the next thing.

That's the beauty of it, I have the freedom to do that. Just play with lots of different things — that looks fun, I'll try that!

Tweedy's Massive Circus opens on Friday 24 May 2024 at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The show comes to Cheltenham Racecourse from Thursday 4 to Sunday 14 July 2024, with tickets costing £35 for adults, £27.50 for children aged five to 12 and £17.50 for children under five.

Limited ringside seats are also available for £42.50 for adults, £35 for under 12s and £25 for under fives.

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