I’m sitting within the Giffords Circus tent subsequent to Tweedy the clown. As circuses go, this large high is small. Cosy even.
There may be sawdust on the ground and the rink is at present occupied by this yr’s performers who embody acrobats from Cuba, a knife-throwing double act from Italy, a rare Mexican/British juggler and the complete Donnerts household from Hungary and Romania who carry out not possible acts of stability on horseback.
All might command an viewers on their very own, however right here every of them is an important a part of Giffords’ new Mexico-inspired knockabout manufacturing ¡Carpa! (from the Spanish phrase for tent).
Nonetheless, proper now they’re underneath the instruction of assistant choreographer Emma Campbell, who’s placing the forged by way of their paces.
‘A dance finale has all the time been a giant a part of the present,’ explains Tweedy as we watch the routine. ‘In most circuses the artists simply come on on the finish and wave.’
The dance is all a part of what makes this circus particular. And at Giffords no artist is extra particular than Tweedy the clown.
He has no pink nostril or make-up, though there’s a tuft of brilliant pink hair protruding from above his forehead as if a tropical fowl had flown full pace into his brow.
If the showbiz gods had squeezed Robin Williams and Mark Rylance into one particular person, the end result could have been Tweedy. He has that form of loose-cannon intelligence.
‘That’s completely spot-on’ says Cal McCrystal, Gifford’s long-standing director, once I converse to him later. ‘Tweedy’s an absolute pleasure, very adaptable and really imaginative. He is sort of a enormous celeb, which he’s at Giffords.’
Not that Tweedy craves celeb. Generally he doesn’t even recognise the well-known individuals within the viewers, although many are amongst his best followers.
In the course of the pandemic he made on-line movies for youngsters that includes such visitor stars as Hugh Bonneville and Reece Shearsmith.
Vivienne Westwood and Jennifer Saunders are additionally followers and Helena Bonham Carter learn Shakespeare on the funeral of the circus’s founder Nell Gifford, who tragically died of breast most cancers at 46 three years in the past.
‘I don’t all the time recognise the celebrities,’ admits Tweedy. One time he was doing a routine that concerned placing a volunteer from the viewers on a motorcycle that gave the impression to be linked to a generator.
They needed to pedal to maintain the lights on whereas Tweedy walked off stage. Once they stopped pedalling the lights would fade at which level he’d shout, ‘Hold pedalling!’
‘After the present somebody stated to me, you do realise that was Amanda Holden?’ he says.
Tweedy’s life appears to have been studded by oddly humorous moments. Earlier than his days as a clown with Zippo’s Circus and earlier than that as a Redcoat with Butlins,
Tweedy was simply younger Alan Digweed who studied animation. However then he realised he wished to be one of many cartoon characters as an alternative of drawing them.
‘My inspiration was Laurel And Hardy, who was on BBC Two at round tea time,’ he says.
At some point he introduced his intentions to be a clown to his father, an electronics engineer, and his mom, who ran a swimming pool. It didn’t go properly. However a couple of minutes after the awkward dialog they have been watching a brand new TV present known as Clowning Round.
It had a scene wherein a younger boy introduced to his dad and mom that he wished to be a clown, mirroring the dialog Tweedy and his dad and mom had simply had.
Tweedy remembers how all of them watched in silent bewilderment on the coincidence.
Although he appears concurrently guileless and hapless, his act reveals a steely professionalism as he’s teeters atop a galloping horse whereas hanging the other way up.
But to speak to him it’s not all the time apparent whether or not you’re in firm of Tweedy the clown or the person.
‘It’s tough to know the place the road is,’ he admits. ‘If I’m at a celebration and I get excited there’s not a lot distinction between my clown and me. Rowan Atkinson’s a really severe particular person in actual life, after which he goes into his clown, Mr Bean.
‘However I like it a lot I wish to keep within the clown world as a lot as attainable.’
Maybe this explains his willpower to avoid wasting the clown from being hijacked by the horror business.
‘I discover the horror clown factor so irritating,’ he says. ‘What I’m doing is about pleasure, the exact opposite of the horror clown.’
Because the dance rehearsal winds down we watch silhouetted circus performers depart the cool shadow of the tent.
‘So I say carry again the clowns,’ says Tweedy.
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