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‘There is no place which recalls so strongly our recollections of childhood as Astley’s’

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz


Circus Past, Present and Future

250 years ago, showman, entrepreneur and equestrian rider Philip Astley drew out a circle in the ground and filled it with astounding physical acts. It was 1768; a time of revolutions. But the real revolution Astley created was a whole new art form. His 42 foot ring and the dazzling combination of jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men, bareback riders… Every circus, anywhere in the world, began at this moment in 1768

250 years later, we celebrate Philip Astley, creator of the circus, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, the place of his birth with Circus Past, Present and Future – a programme of events that will showcase the wonder of circus for all ages.

As part of our season, we welcome the internationally-renowned NoFit State Circus to town to create and premiere their show LEXICON and we’ll produce Astley’s Astounding Adventures – a brand new play about Astley’s extraordinary life, written by Stone-born Frazer Flintham and directed by our Artistic Director Theresa Heskins. Alongside these, we’ll also be leading on a host of exciting events in conjunction with The Victoria & Albert Museum, Circolombia, The Philip Astley Project, The Brampton Museum and Art Gallery, Roundhouse, London and many more.

Circus Past, Present and Future will take audiences on a fantastical journey into the world of circus. Join us as we run away to the circus!

See below for details of events included in the season and find out more about each event in our programme on our What’s On page:


NoFit State Circus’ LEXICON: until Sat 21 April

Themes and Stories Exhibition: until Sat 21 April

Ryecroft, Corporation Street, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Giving an insight into the creation of a circus show, this exhibition will capture memories from NoFit State Circus’ development process as they create their brand new production in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The outdoor exhibition, displayed around NoFit State Circus’ tent, will showcase the imprint of circus on the local area and the stories that have fed into the creative development process.

No Fit State Circus Exhibition: until Sat 14 April

New Vic Theatre

To coincide with the world première of LEXICON in Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre, the New Vic will take a look back at 30 years of NoFit State Circus with a special exhibition. Exploring the photographic archive of the contemporary circus company, images will range from their formation in 1986, through to their more recent productions such as Bianco and Block.

In partnership with the V&A and Appetite
Mon 2 April – Sat 4 August

Red Lion Square, Newcastle-under-Lyme

In association with the Victoria & Albert Museum, this exhibition held in the centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme will use images of original prints and drawings and stunning photographs, old and new, to follow the progress of circus as it travelled across the world, illustrating some of its remarkable acts, characters and developments along the way, and showcasing this phenomenal artform on a grand scale.

Circolombia Acéléré: Thu 10 – Sun 13 May

Astley’s Astounding Adventures: Sat 7 – Sat 28 July

Cabinet of Curiosities: Wed 18 – Fri 27 July

Roll Up Roll Up: Sat 4 August (Presented as part of The Philip Astley Project’s AstleyFest)

Also – keep an eye out for more details about Circus Party In The Park, a free, family friendly event. More details will be available soon.


Circus Past, Present and Future is made possible thanks to the fantastic support of Arts Council England and is  presented by New Vic Theatre and NoFit State Circus in partnership with Arts Council England, Circus250Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Brampton Museum and Art Gallery, The Philip Astley Project, Circus Works, Circus Futures, The University of Sheffield, Roundhouse, London and Upswing.


Find out about more events happening in Newcastle-under-Lyme presented by The Philip Astley Project here

Find out more about events happening all across the country as part of the 250th anniversary celebrations of circus at




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