This year’s Astley Fest is taking place virtually on Saturday 1 August, with an exciting line-up of online workshops and inspiring performances for families to get stuck into, thanks to The Philip Astley Project.  

Astley Fest was due to return this year following a successful event at Lyme Valley Park in 2018, which marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of the modern circus by local showman Philip Astley and was funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and associated restrictions, an in-person event was not possible this year, so activities have now been taken online – with a lively schedule of content available on The Philip Astley Project and Appetite Facebook pages during the day.

Daniel Bird as Patty Jones
Danielle Bird as Patty Jones. Pic by Clara Lou Photography


Actor Danielle Bird, who played Patty Jones Astley in the 2018 New Vic Theatre production of Astley’s Astounding Adventures, will be ring-mistress, introducing acts throughout the virtual celebration.

Special guests include illusionist Andrew Van Buren and clown Tweedy who will host online workshops which families can interact with from home, and Dancer Daniel Jones who will be sharing his own family’s experience of creating #AstleysatHome to encourage families to get involved. Joining the action as well will be juggler and inventor Matt Pangottic – as seen at The Homecoming and Astley Fest in 2018 – hula hooper and roller skater Symoné, and Gandeys Circus who will be providing an exclusive Facebook Live backstage tour of their big top hosted by the Ringmaster. These will be complemented by thrilling never-been-seen archive footage to spark further curiosity in circus as an art form.

Andrew Van Buren at AstleyFest 2018. Image Mark Dudley.

Illusionist, Andrew Van Buren, said: “Born in Newcastle under Lyme in 1742, the son of a cabinet maker Philip Astley went onto become the creator of the modern circus as we know it today and the original Ringmaster. The story of Philip Astley is a remarkable one, so important to Newcastle-under-Lyme and now being recognised worldwide too. The Philip Astley Project, Astley Fest and the Astley Fest Online Extravaganza aims to celebrate his incredible legacy and keep his remarkable story alive for future generations.”

The Philip Astley Project hopes the event will inspire families to transform into their own circus troupe and share pictures and videos of themselves getting involved, whether practicing juggling or creating their own clown make-up, via social media with the hashtag #AstleysAtHome.


Dancer Daniel Jones of Daniel Jones Dance, said: “This exciting event is a great opportunity to dig out fun clothes or costumes and improvise at home to re-create the circus experience. Philip Astley and his legacy is a fantastic inspiration and our children are loving the chance to bring the circus home.”

Astley Fest is being run by the Philip Astley Project, funded by Arts Council England, and with support from Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council. It is produced in partnership with Appetite.



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