Daredevils & Divas: A Night At The Circus, BBC Four

“You’re never too old, you’re never too young, you’re never too cool to go to a circus,” said red-coated ringmaster Norman Barrett halfway through Daredevils & Divas, a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the first British circus and a compilation of the best and most cutting-edge circus acts working today. And judging by the regular camera pans across the audiences, Barrett wasn’t far wrong. Mums, dads, kids, grannies, aunts, uncles and hipsters, they were all there and most of them looked suitably dumbstruck by what they were seeing.

Interestingly that same mixed demographic was present among the circus performers too. Some were married to other performers and used their own children in their acts. Others, such as Brazilian aerial performer Alex Michael, came from families steeped in circus traditions. He was a sixth-generation performer who does the same traditional routine for Zippo’s Circus as his father did. Others – the circus version of Muggles, if you like – came from very ordinary backgrounds. We met them at the achingly-hip National Centre for Circus Arts in London’s achingly-hip Hoxton district.

Some performers featured took their acquired skills and collaborated with other artists, in this case contemporary dancers, to create mind-blowing fusions of theatre, movement and juggling. Or they took an interest in other subjects and applied them to circus performing. One such was Aberdeen-born Alan Digweed, who was heading for art college to study animation until he realised he could turn himself the cartoon instead. And so was born Tweedy the Clown, now a fixture of Gifford’s Circus and a sort of latter day Buster Keaton as viewed through the prism of punk rock.

The set-piece which closed the show came from Chris Bullzini, a funambulist with a flair for the theatrical. And if you don’t know what a funambulist is, here’s a clue: Bullzini was filmed undertaking the first crossing of the River Wear by tightrope. At dusk. With an audience of thousands, many of whom had turned up with deckchairs.

Between the acts themselves, filmed at circuses from Cardiff to Aberdeenshire, we were entertained by puckish Doug Francisco of cult circus troupe The Invisible Circus in segments filmed in the plush surrounds of the historic Hippodrome Circus ring in Great Yarmouth. A fantastic creation in his own right, at one point he lay clutching a copy of Angela Carter’s magic realist fable Nights At The Circus. He and it added a wonderful touch of showmanship to a spectacle already rich in wonders.