It’s not all about Macca and Billie Eilish, don’t you know? Some of Glastonbury’s best areas involve no music at all. For instance, the Theatre & Circus fields are some of the festival’s oldest areas, where performers surprise punters with spontaneous shows as they pass by, and there are full-scale acrobatics pieces that you’d pay hundreds for in actual theatres.
City A.M. spotted some unlikely Glastonbury punters in the Theatre and Circus fields: Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg were wandering around the theatre fields, with Boris declaring “party laughs at your expense.” Priti was touting “package tours to Rwanda” and Rees-Moog lamenting the lack of 19th century attitudes.
Of course, they were just actors playing up to these politicians – the real deals might not have gone down so well at Glastonbury. They were one of 90 roaming street theatre acts which strolled around the fields during the daytimes over the weekend.
If you’d like to read about Paul McCartney at Glastonbury or Billie Eilish and ‘Legend’ slot headliner Diana Ross, City A.M.’s full Glastonbury 2022 review: highlights included, is available here. Otherwise, read on to hear why the eccentric theatre and circus fields are unmissable next time you go.
WAIT, SO IT’S NOT JUST MUSIC? The festival’s full name is the Glastonbury festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, so expect more than just music. A new Ai Wei Wei film premiered this year, and fresh theatre productions are given exclusive runs alongside more established, award-winning shows.
HOW DO I EVEN BEGIN WORKING OUT WHAT TO SEE AND DO? Good question. Glastonbury can feel overwhelming – so pick one alternative area and really get to know it well. That could be the Healing Fields, where I once fell asleep on a gentle slope for hours in the midday sun, unbothered by passers-by who were getting massages and learning about ways to better themselves in group healing sessions. Or it could be the The Park stage, the festival’s most picturesque zone, where talks and debates compete sonically with bands and there’s a multicoloured ribbon tower to head up for the best views. But my best bet is the Theatre and Circus fields, where I got hauled up on stage to perform with giant bouncy balls, as you do…
SOUNDS GOOD, BUT WHY CHOOSE THEATRE OVER MUSIC WHEN THERE ARE MASSIVE BANDS PLAYING? The Theatre and Circus fields are some of the most heritage parts of this festival. They were set up in the 1970s by Arabella Churchill, Winston’s granddaughter, and her widower Haggis McLeod still runs the stages here today. He’s a famous juggler and the two met and married in a joint ceremony with Michael Eavis and his late wife Jean Hayball in 1988. Take a quiet moment to wander over Bella’s Bridge and read Michael Eavis’ emotional tribute to the lady who was so passionate about the festival that she sold some of Churchill’s paintings to help with funding, but sadly passed away in 2007. In terms of the action, there are literally hundreds of shows in proper full scale theatres, and best are the street theatre acts, which you can enjoy as they wander past while you’re sat with a pint.
That sounds like a delightful way to spend the afternoon. It absolutely is. As I said, these fields are some of the Glastonbury 2022 highlights. I was accosted by an octopus offering high fives, a group of paparazzi who mistook me for Sam Fender, men with three-metre-long legs cycling past blowing bubbles, full-scale marching bands, arctic explorers carrying US flags, disgraced politicians, and eccentric scientists. If you don’t want to commit to a whole show, an afternoon spent wandering to and from different shows on the outdoor circus stages will mean you take in clowns, stunt artists, amazing strength acts, beguiling crystal ball jugglers and sublime mime performances.
WERE THERE ANY STAND OUTS? Fraser Hooper first performed at the festival in 1995, and this year came armed with an electronic duck. He pulled three kids out of the audience, gave them duck hats and made them follow the electronic duck around like little ducklings. Then he made them put on fish heads and pretend to be getting caught by a fishing rod. It sounds silly, and it absolutely was. “People used to think Glastonbury was just about the music, but that changed years ago, now they go just as much for this as they do the music,” Fraser told City A.M. after his set. “You have to lower your expectations a bit, you can’t be a primadonna. The audience are often really relaxed, a lot of them are lying down, whereas when you go to the theatre everyone’s sitting up and watching.”
HE SOUNDS EXCELLENT – ANY OTHER CHARACTERS? I bumped into Dr Ken with his telescope. He was asking people to gaze up at the sky, and then making them laugh by dangling his homemade felt star in front of the lens. “Of course science can be funny,” he said. “It’s playing with real science and surreal science. I’ve met three astrophysicists today, one from Harvard studying black holes. She ran over and she loved it – a real, proper scientist. I’m debunking the idea that scientists are boring.”
Dr Ken first performed at the festival in 1992 and fondly remembers working with Arabella Churchill. “What I liked about Bella is she hand wrote every single contract. I still have some of those, it was very touching,” he said. “She’d always write a separate note for everyone, she’d know every single performer, she would tour the world and see artists.” While punters know what they’re getting on the main stages, performers in the alternative arenas get to watch how surprised punters are when they walk through. “Punters say, ‘man this really does make the festival for me,” Dr Ken said. “As if by accident they stumbled upon the most mind blowing visual experiences. They leave astounded.”
Glastonbury 2022 highlights from the Theatre and Circus fields, as well as from the rest of Glastonbury, are available on iPlayer. Boris Johnson actor photo credit: Hannah Copeland
Read City A.M.’s full Glastonbury 2022 review: Highlights include reports from Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish, Diana Ross and more, and it’s available here