Heads craned towards the top of the Giffords big top, mouths ajar, audible gasps heard from the audience, we were all transfixed by the dare-devil acts of Lyrical Lycra, Ethiopian acrobats Konjowoch and the fire jumping horses

When not watching through our fingers, we were either laughing at the antics of Tweedy the clown, Sarsaparilla Sal, Handsome Eddie, thigh slapping with the Honky Tonk band, hiding from the stern sheriff, enjoying the handiwork of gunslinger Lilian Konyot, or enjoying the Eriskay ponies, sausage stealing dogs and even a trained chicken.

Yes Giffords Circus is back with The Painted Wagon, a tip of the hat to the Western, and the pioneer families making their way across America.

That aside you can expect fire, thigh slapping, juggling, dancing, singing, lassoing, romance, trapezists, pole acts, foot juggling, acrobatics, and equestrians, all ensuring there is never a dull moment, poignantly interspersed with examples and stories of the trials and tribulations of the pioneers.

Lyrical Lycra went from the sublime to the ridiculous, transforming themselves from strict Presbyterians Patience and Chastity to a trapeze act with a difference, which stirred things up a bit.

A reassuring glimpse of Nell Gifford, galloping round the ring, was matched by the terrifying and tall sheriff belittled by a donkey as his shoes brushed the sawdust.

But the star of the show for me was still Tweedy the clown and his trusty iron Keith, who had me actually crying with laughter, my children eyeing me nervously in case I embarrassed them. Yes, the crush is still alive and well.

The usual eclectic and totally intoxicating, heart warming mix of entertainment, good old-fashioned showmanship and of course circusry is alive and well at Giffords then and The Painted Wagon is better than ever.

Director Cal McCrystal's touch is evident, his gift being an immersive and all involving show which makes you feel an intrinsic part of it, concluding with an energetic audience hoedown.

If I had one criticism it would be that it would be nice to see a broader audience mix there, but if you want to see Giffords you can catch it at Oxford University Parks, Kingham or Great Barrington. You need to get a move on though as large tranches of the shows have already sold out.

Katherine MacAlister 5/5

Oxford (16 - 27 June)

Oxford University Parks, Oxford OX1 3QG

Barrington (21 July - 1 August)

Directly opposite the Fox Inn, Great Barrington, Burford, Oxon OX18 4TB