CAL McCrystal can’t stay long. Once Giffords Circus’ latest show is up and running he has to jet off to the US to work as a comedy consultant on the new Spiderman movie, but until then you’ll find him in a dusty field in Gloucestershire, where the finishing touches are being put to a show called Lucky 13.

Billed as being ‘wilder and more magical than ever’, Giffords’ 2013 production combines director Cal’s vision and the creative force of the circus’ inimitable founder Nell Gifford.

Cal also directed last year’s show, The Saturday Book, with huge success.

And so he’s back on the circus bandwagon, mustering up more magic, laughter and fairy dust for Cotswolds-based Giffords Circus which comes to the county this summer.

“Circus is my absolute favourite environment to work in because there are no rules. Making a show in a big top sets you completely free,” Cal explains, “because circus can be anything it wants and there are no constraints, unlike when you go to see a play or film.

“So even though you can’t imagine what the act will be, you know it has this incredible variety of elements.

“Plus I’m now able to use what I learned last year, knowing the environment and some of the artists, because Lucky 13 is a mix of old and new, but much, much funnier, more exciting and energetic,” he promises.

He of One Man, Two Guvnors and The Dictator fame (he was physical comedy director/consultant on both) must delight in the bohemian lifestyle Giffords affords, considering he then has to jet back to Los Angeles and the slick world of Hollywood?

“My job is a real mix,” he says, “I’m very lucky and I enjoy every part of it: the movies and the circus, neither would be as much fun on their own,” he says.

Even so, it was a big surprise when Nell Gifford phoned him out of the blue last year, inviting him on board.

“When Nell first contacted me, I came to see the show and we talked about what circus meant to me, while explaining that, although I’ve worked with Cirque Du Soleil, it wasn’t my natural aesthetic and that Giffords is more my kind of entertainment.”

Budget wise, though, they are worlds apart – a challenge that Cal relished: “Cirque in Vegas had a $66m (£43m) budget but having lots of money doesn’t make you more creative. You just have to think of lots of ways to spend it,” Cal grins.

“Smaller budgets mean you have to stretch yourself more and play to the cast’s strengths, use the people and play to a more intimate crowd. Cirque was 2,000 a night, so 500 feels much more cosy.

“But Giffords lets me do anything I want, as long as it doesn’t blow the budget, because they really nurture talent and ideas. So if I want a bungee-jumping Hungarian, or new jugglers, no problem. I just stir the pot.”

Where does Cal begin when crafting a new show from scratch then?

“Well, being a sprightly 53 and very immature helps – which is important when you devote your life to comedy.

"It means I spurn anything conventional, because I want the narrative to drive the show, while letting the physical acts tell the story, and allowing the comedy to develop – so it’s always a surprise.”

Under this premise, what Cal and Nell have come up with is Lucky 13, which has more of a storyline than previous years: “It’s about a highbrow Giffords Circus invaded by gipsies, so think opera and classical music overtaken by Transylvanian gipsies escaping from artistic persecution who then infiltrate the show with their earthy acts and their own band. It’s a real mash of Western and Eastern European music and its works.”

A massive challenge then?

“When you have horses and a classical concerto to merge it is quite mind-boggling and some days you think too much about it and just have to soldier on until you get there,” Cal admits.

Currently three weeks into rehearsals at Gifford's base at Folly Farm, near Bourton-on-the-Water, the circus is then off to Broadway, in Worcestershire, for dress rehearsals before the summer tour starts next week.

And while this is Cal's second summer working with Giffords, it’s a position he is reluctant to relinquish because in spite of his A-list CV, he cherishes his time in the straw.

“While I can’t run away with the circus this summer because I’m filming Spiderman 2 in New York, we are already talking about the next circus with enthusiasm on both sides.

“I can’t tell you the pleasure I get from seeing and hearing the audience responding and laughing. It’s a lovely feeling,” Cal smiles.

Giffords Circus’ Lucky 13

  • Broadway, May 16–20
  • Daylesford Farm, near Kingham, May 30–June 3
  • Tackley village green, June 6–10
  • Bicester Pingle Field, June 13–17
  • Stadhampton village green, June 20–24
  • Oxford University Parks, July 4–8
  • The Trout Inn, Lechlade, July 11-15
  • The Fox Inn, Great Barrington, near Burford, July 18-29
  • For tickets, call 0845 459 7469 or book online at