Managed Decline sent Kirsten Hawkins out to see what was going on Duke St in the most inconspicuous of places.

It took a while to find the Secret Circus – It certainly seemed esoteric and underground judging by the “Car Park” space in Duke Street. Many of us have to be forgiven for seeking out an actual carpark, and on Duke Street, narrowing it down can be time-consuming.

Earlier in the year, I had attended Threshold’s Secret Circus offering and was treated to such incredible highlights that I am only sorry I did not write about more back then. Needless to say, I was looking forward to an exciting display of the entire spectrum of talents.

Edinburgh Fringe-lite

I have never been to Edinburgh Festival – This was the Circus’s first show after their forays in the fringe, and despite my lack of experience as an elite festivalite, I get a sense that the Circus is home to emerging Edinburgh-ites. To the naked eye, the Circus seems to act as a school for newbie performers, welcoming a diversity of experience-levels. There is a sense of the show coming together last minute, with a combination of acts that will probably never all be under one roof at the same time again, and the narrative of “Oh this person just rang up to see if they could perform tonight” certainly adds to the entertainment value. The result is a raw originality and freshness that is still in the process of honing.

The Secret Circus ≠ a circus

I personally believe the term “circus” is a misnomer. Although there are circus elements, it is a variety show that lends itself to cabaret. Where it excelled for me was with the comedy segments.

Alistair Clark - Secret Circus
Alistair Clark – Secret Circus

The “rough-around-the-edges-with-aplomb” badge went to Alistair Clark’s stand-up routine. His style is not polished, and yet he plays on that, drawing laughter from the audience using an unapologetic school-boyish humour to disarm the audience.

Comic poet Dave Viney’s rhymes raised more than a few smiles with his quirky insights into a uniquely Northern mind set. Even compere Eve Howlett’s dry wit as one half of the charismatic hosting duo added to the comedy festival feel of the night.

 Rowena Gander - Secret Circus
Rowena Gander – Secret Circus

Flying the flag for team Circus was Rowena Gander with her pole-dance routine. Wait a minute – I know what you are thinking, and although we are used to seeing burlesque at the Secret Circus, often delivered with an air of tongue in cheek, this dance was far-removed from the sexual connotations associated with this type of dancing. Rowena was in pole performance demonstrating a degree of athleticism that was unrivalled that night. The energetic moves of Nana Funk were in close second, but she somewhat lacked Rowena’s grace and finesse. The mistake the Circus production team made was putting Rowena on first – She should have been saved for later in the night but certainly gave the show a strong start.

Chanel Samson serenaded us all with yet another self-composed cheeky ditty, the honesty of her lyrics completely resonating with the audience, most of whom would never have the courage to say, let alone sing these words out loud. But I know from previous interviews with Chanel that she aims, not so much to shock, but to bring down the barriers of conversations we refrain from having. Besides that, her vocals are strong, eloquent and exciting – The petiteness of the venue serving to remove any illusion of false talent you may get from studio production or the fanfare of a massive stage set. Chanel had nowhere to hide; her voice is natural and powerful and doesn’t need enhancement.

Late into the night, the music carried on with the Rocky Horror-themed Karaoke, giving the audience the chance to show the performers their own talents.


The Secret Circus is a positive environment for aspiring performers. The skill level varies, with the most refined artists placed alongside those just starting out. All performers have the advantage of a welcoming audience to develop their confidence in their act, and some will no doubt go on to showcase their best yet at a future Circus. For the audience, you never know what you are going to get – You can guess there will be some cheeky burlesque, some singing and many, many laughs, but it is a brilliant night out for the surprise element alone.

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