Festival of Fools: Northern Ireland performer on the changing face of circus

A Northern Irish circus performer is looking forward to putting on a homecoming show this bank holiday weekend.

By Graeme Cousins
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 5:12 pm

Graham Milligan from Belfast will be performing as Hands Down Circus with his partner Carys Nicholls at Festival of Fools which begins tomorrow and runs until Monday.

The 28-year-old from Belfast met Carys, 26, from Oxford at the Circomedia circus school in Bristol.

Graham said: “I’d been a juggler, I’d done lots of prop manipulation for four or five years.”

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Carys Nicholls and Graham Milligan are Hands Down Circus

Carys added: “My background was mostly in aerial like flying trapeze, things like that.

“We started doing partner acrobatics. It’s fun, it’s nice working with other people. A lot of other disciplines you’re in a room by yourself training.”

When the pandemic began the pair moved to Northern Ireland to get out of London where they were living.

Graham said: “It was completely shut down, and we were stuck in a tiny apartment.

Carys Nicholls and Graham Milligan are Hands Down Circus

“We’re living in east Belfast now. At the minute we’re pretty settled in Northern Ireland.”

Talking about contemporary circus Carys said: “A lot of people have seen circus but don’t know they’ve seen circus because they just don’t have that word in their head. They may have seen a dance show but there will be loads of elements of circus in it.”

Graham commented: “There’s contemporary circus, there’s traditional circus, then there’s animal traditional circus. We would do contemporary which is around storytelling or a concept.

“It’s been ingrained that circus has a big top, clowns and an elephant, if it doesn’t have those it’s not a circus.”

Carys said: “You’ve got films like ‘The Greatest Showman’ which are great and have done a lot for circus, but it still makes people think of all those things a little bit.”

Jenna Hall, Festival of Fools Chief Executive, said: ”Circus is brilliantly inclusive, it’s non-competitive so it’s open to all. You can progress at your own speed and your own rate.

“We’ve got 150 regular adult circus members, they would say that they come for the social team spirit of it without it being competitive, they come because it’s good for your strength, flexibility and co-ordination. They also come because it’s a bit different and you can be exactly who you are.”

“There’s a hint of an image problem but what Festival of Fools do and Circusful do is really challenge people’s understanding of circus.”

Ireland’s largest comedy and street festival returns to Belfast from today until May 2 offering four days of jam-packed, all-inclusive entertainment for the whole family at various locations across Belfast. For the full programme visit www.foolsfestival.com