Review: Circus Cortex's Glory Tour Essex

(Gifted tickets) I must have gone to the circus as a child, but any memories I have are very much blurred with circuses in films like Dumbo. I’m very sure I didn’t see a flying elephant at a circus, yet I can still picture it. The memory works in funny ways doesn’t it? 

As I was growing up circuses fell out of fashion due to concerns about animal cruelty, in the last few years I have taken my children to three different circuses and there isn’t an animal in sight. The circus has definitely been reinvented and the talent of the performers astounds me.

2 girls doing jazz hands outside the Circus Cortex tent having watched it as a review
The girls loved the visit to the circus

Circus Cortex Review

Last night I took my daughters to Circus Cortex. It’s a travelling circus that is currently touring Essex, appearing in a new location for shows every Thursday to Monday. They are in Harlow this weekend before some other dates in Essex: Heybridge then Saffron Waldron before heading to Cambridgeshire: St Neots, Cottenham and Cambridge then Milton Keynes and a few other places.

The performances are in a 500 capacity tent with seats around a circular performance area. This is a similar size to the other travelling circus I have seen, but much smaller than the Big Top at Hyde Parks Winter Wonderland. Given a performer fell off the high wire at Hyde Park the day after we visited and ended up in hospital I see this lower roof as a positive thing! The Circus Cortex group manage to use the space effectively with a range of different and creative acts, many were new styles of performances to me.

two men on an aerial pole with a dancer in the foreground
The aerial pole performance was my eldest daughter's favourite act

A circus clown surrounded by dry ice
The obligatory circus clown

A man skipping on a unicycle
Tricks on a unicycle

The Circus Cortex Acts

I was somewhat disappointed not to be greet by Hugh Jackman or Zac Efron but I guess The Greatest Showman has set the bar high for ringmasters. Circus Cortex takes a different route with the acts punctuated by dancers who pump up the volume and entertain. 

Between acts in the show as well as the dancers there was a clown. My eldest daughter pulled a face as soon as he appeared. The clown type of humour is not for everyone, but she was soon giggling away so he is definitely one of the better ones (although his use of a whistle in one segment was incredibly loud and made us want to cover our ears).

The other performances were (and I’m totally making up the names of their acts here, they do have proper names on the website):

Unicycle man: who cycled round on a number of single wheeled bikes including jumping up at down a platform.

Cushion spinning woman: reclined on a raised platform she spun pieces of material on her hands and feet. More impressive than it sounds, very nimble toes.

The pole dancing duo: two topless men show their incredible strength as they spin, climb and hang on to a pole dangling from the top of the tent. 

The balancing man: using a variety of props piled up this guy climbs on top and manages to avoid falling off. Each time he uses different props and gets higher. I suspect there are some performances he doesn’t manage to balance, but he impressively managed to stand on top at least briefly each time in our show.

Tightrope woman: without the height that you get in a more permanent structure they went for having the rope a metre or so off the floor. This removed much of the suspense you get worrying about them falling off but doesn’t actually affect the skill of the performer. This lady had a burlesque element and high points were her twirling fire lit hoops and sitting on a chair balancing on the rope.

Balancing plate man (who was previously seen at the beginning on a unicycle): entertained the audience by getting everyone to help him spinning 13 plates/ bowls without them smashing. He didn’t bring out spares so I imagine he is quite adept at this.

The bike boys: this is the act that children are aiming for when they are riding on and off slopes with their BMXs. The guys managed to show an impressive display of skill in a small space including jumping between platforms and high into the air on their bikes.

The kids: tightrope woman returned to balance on a large ball while two little kids (aged 5ish) performed. The girl mostly stalked around looking cute while the boy rode a unicycle. Lots of “arrrrrr”s all round.

Finale: the whole troupe then came on for their applause while dancing.

A man standing on a pile of props that aren't very stable at the circus
Mild peril with a balancing act

A man spinning lots of plates on poles
Children loved shouting out when one of the plates were about to fall

a lady spinning cushion type things on her hands and feet at the circus
The circus has a wide variety of acts

Asked this morning my eldest said her favourite act was the aerial pole men (mine too) and my younger daughter loved the dancers best and one of the clown sketches where he took “photos” of the audience.

Other Essential Info About Circus Cortex 

There is popcorn, candyfloss, cold drinks, spinning light toys and signed posters available to buy. (Drinks were £1.50, food £3 to 3.50 and our spinning lights £7). They took cash and cards. 

We went to the 5pm show which finished about 6.45pm including a 20 minute interval. The 7pm audience was queuing to go in as we left.

The seats are divided into the VIP middle section with the best view, grandstand seats which are on either side of this and then the side seats with a limited view. Actual seating within each section is on a first come first served basis. Anywhere in the VIP section will give you a good view, but if you purchase seats in other sections arrive early. First night seats in a new location seem to always be £9.99 and there are discounts available on tickets on other nights eg Harlow is £7 off full price seats with discount code CCV7OFF and Heybridge and Saffron Walden have £5 off full price seats with code CC5OFF.

A BMX circus act with ramps and dancers
BMX performers and dancers

Quick changing dancers entertain between acts at the circus
Dancers entertain between acts (this is before the tight rope act)

It hasn’t been an easy time for circuses just like any business in the Arts. After such a long break they can finally perform again, but audience numbers are still down and they need our support more than ever before.

Circus Cortex encouraged people to wear masks, use hand gel and to socially distance but I would say most of the social distancing was probably due to low numbers. I don’t know how it would work if there were more people, I imagine numbers will be kept reduced compared to a few years ago . However as the performances take place in a ventilated tent it is more comfortable from a pandemic point of view than an inside a permanent venue. The performers (who act as stewards and product sellers too) wore face masks and face shields to set the scene, but few of the audience wore masks in our performance when actually seated.

the circus cortex tent back drop
Circus Cortex review

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