Bringing the elephants of Circus 1903 to life

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 10:16

In December, 2019 we welcome the thrills and daredevil entertainment of Circus 1903 to Southbank Centre as they bring their spectacular turn-of-the-century inspired show back to our Royal Festival Hall.

I really wanted to go back to the turn of the century where the acts were breathtaking, dangerous, edge of your seats, and where animals were really at the forefront of the show.
Simon Painter, Creative Producer, Circus 1903

But how do you make animals a central part of a modern circus when the audience is in collective agreement that to have traditionally wild animals performing tricks is unethical? For Circus 1903, the solution to this dilemma came from the acclaimed theatre production War Horse. Taking inspiration from the play’s incredible equine puppets, Circus 1903 set out to bring circus elephants back to the ring; a journey you can see in this trio of videos.

Bringing the Elephants to Life: Part 1 | Circus 1903

The reason I brought elephants back to the circus is because they are the classic, grandest, and most overwhelmingly amazing creatures that you’d ever see in a circus show.
Simon Painter, Creative Producer, Circus 1903


In this second video Circus 1903’s Creative Producer, Simon Painter explains why they chose to use puppetry rather than animatronics to bring the elephants to life. And Mervyn Millar of Significant Object – the company tasked with creating the puppets – explains how their creations help bring to life the contrasting characters of the mother and baby elephant.

Bringing the Elephants to Life Part 2 | Circus 1903

You fall in love with these animals because of their emotions, and that really happens entirely through the movement; it was really about the emotion and bringing these animals to life on stage.
Simon Painter, Creative Producer, Circus 1903


Creating puppets that are both easy to use, but also believable as animals is no easy task, and in this final video, Millar explains how it falls on the puppeteers to marry these two aspects together. The puppeteers themselves also describe how they work together as a team to breathe life into the elephants and channel their respective personalities into the performance.

Bringing the Elephants to Life: Part 3 | Circus 1903

We’ve got so much respect for the puppeteers who are going to turn this into a show. It’s a real pleasure to work in something that is absolutely about emotional connection through performance.
Mervyn Millar, Significant Object (engineers of the Circus 1903 puppets)


Circus 1903 returns to Southbank Centre from 19 December 2019, until 5 January 2020.

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