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Newcastle-under-Lyme named as one of six Cities of Circus for 2018

Newcastle-under-Lyme named as one of six Cities of Circus for 2018

14th December 2017

Newcastle-under-Lyme will be a hub for circus celebrations in 2018 after being named as one of the six Cities of Circus by Circus250; the national organisation coordinating celebrations of circus’ 250th anniversary.

 The New Vic and The Philip Astley Project will lead events throughout the year all designed to champion the legacy of local hero Philip Astley – the father of modern circus; celebrate the phenomenon of the artform and further develop the town as a nationally recognised destination for drama, dance and circus.

The New Vic, supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme, will produce Circus Past, Present and Future, a season of work celebrating the remarkable artform in its anniversary year. Circus Past, Present and Future will see the theatre-in-the-round produce a brand new play in July written by Staffordshire-born Frazer Flintham. Astley’s Astounding Adventures will be directed by Artistic Director Theresa Heskins and will combine the thrill of the circus with the uniqueness of theatre-in-the-round. Earlier in the year, the theatre will bring NoFit State Circus to town to present the world premiere of their new show, LEXICON (Wed 28 March – Sat 21 April), and they will also collaborate with a wide range of local, national and international partners on shows and exhibitions throughout the year including with The Victoria & Albert Museum, Circolombia, Roundhouse, The Philip Astley Project and The Brampton Museum and Art Gallery.

The Philip Astley Project, managed by Staffordshire University, will celebrate Newcastle-under-Lyme’s local hero during 2018 with a series of events held throughout the year to celebrate Philip Astley’s legacy and circus across the centuries. Events will include a series of talks held ‘In Conversation…’ with Andrew Van Buren; an exhibition Philip Astley – His Life and Legacy held at the Brampton Museum, and a short circus film season at the Stoke Film Theatre. In addition, Dr Carmel Thomason, Senior Lecturer in Journalism from Staffordshire University, will be researching aspects of Philip Astley’s story to create a Resource Pack for community groups to continue learning about Astley beyond 2018.


Theresa Heskins, New Vic Artistic Director, said: “It’s fantastic that Newcastle-under-Lyme has been named as one of the six Cities of Circus for 2018 by Circus250. Circus traverses boundaries, crossing languages, continents and even the centuries to appeal to audiences of all ages. Next year offers the New Vic the chance to celebrate it as an artform and to shine a spotlight on our home – Newcastle-under-Lyme – the place where Philip Astley, its creator, was born. We have a longstanding relationship with circus at the New Vic through our produced work and through our Creative People and Places programme, Appetite. In 2018, with support from Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence investment, we’re looking forward to working with companies of national and international-acclaim including NoFit State Circus, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Circolombia, Roundhouse and many more to take our relationship with circus to the next level and to really shine a spotlight on Newcastle-under-Lyme.”

Andrew Van Buren, of the Van Buren Organisation and Philip Astley Project said: “I am so pleased that after years of my family campaigning to gain Philip Astley greater recognition, his name, life, and his vast legacy is finally being celebrated on a global scale during 2018. Working alongside a number of partners that form the Philip Astley Project, including Staffordshire University, plus with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding, we are truly putting Philip Astley into the public eye. So few realise that this son of Newcastle-under-Lyme was not only a war hero, but also the original ringmaster and father of the modern day circus. For Newcastle-under-Lyme and circus, Astley is our Shakespeare.”

Philip Astley was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1742 to a local cabinetmaker. In 1759, he joined the 15th Light Dragoons, the first Light Cavalry Regiment of the British Army and was later chosen to be instructed in a new method of riding. Developing fantastic equestrian skills during his military career, Astley went on to experiment with trick riding and discovered that a 42-foot ring was the ideal diameter for trick riders to make use of centrifugal force to stay on the back of their horses. He drew out the very first circus ring in 1768 and 42 feet remains the standard size of circus ring used around the world. From his initial experimentations, Astley went on to develop circus as we know it today, forever putting Newcastle-under-Lyme on the national map as the birthplace of the father of modern circus.

More details about the New Vic’s Circus Past, Present and Future season of work can be found here… For details of The Philip Astley Project, including details of events for 2018, visit

Article by Claire Walker

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