Young People across Greater Manchester celebrate Victorian Black British circus owner Pablo Fanque

Five groups of young people across Greater Manchester have taken part in creative workshops with multi-disciplinary artist Jade Williams to explore and celebrate the first Black British circus owner, Pablo Fanque.

Pablo Fanque was born William Darby in Norwich in 1810. After apprenticing to circus proprietor William Batty as a child he became an extremely gifted tight rope walker and acrobat and a highly respected and admired equestrian. With his own circus he toured all over England, Scotland and Ireland, but most frequently in Manchester, Lancashire and Yorkshire. His extraordinary shows became the most popular for around 30 years, often having extended seasons.

Pablo was known to host benefit nights with proceeds going to members of the community in need. The most famous of these was in Rochdale in 1843, for the benefit of Mr Kite, which was immortalised in 1967 when John Lennon came across an old playbill for the event and was inspired to write The Beatles song Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite.

Jade Williams is a dancer with a strong grounding in Afro-Brazilian dance, a writer, poet and performer.

Jade Williams is a dancer with a strong grounding in Afro-Brazilian dance, a writer, poet and performer. The core value of her practice is to connect with people through movement, words and creative play, to allow others to engage with their instinctive creative nature.

Jade’s tour of five schools and organisations across Greater Manchester reignited Pablo’s Fair to inspire pupils to create their own circus in Pablo’s honour, with a focus is on being as creative as possible using dance, music, drama, craft and more, allowing young people to express themselves and improve their wellbeing and confidence.

Jade said:Creativity, wellbeing, local history and Black British history are all important for young people to engage with and be made aware of. Young people are at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter campaign and are the new generation fighting for change and greater inequalities for all, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, abilities etc. I feel the content of this work will encourage them to engage further and spread further awareness of Britain’s shared history.”In exploring Pablo Fanque it is hoped the workshops will inspire young people to explore more local Black British figures, past and present, with a view to honouring them in a creative way.

For the culmination of the workshops each of the five groups have created a short video which are presented as acts in a virtual circus of the imagination: Medlock’s Marvellous Masterpiece, Chatsworth’s Happy Circus, Pablo’s Cool Circus (Redwood School), Funky Monkey Donkey Land Circus (Holy Name) and Circus of the Greats (Pathways). The culmination event airs on the Coliseum’s Social Media channels in a one-day takeover on Tuesday 18 May, and remains available on the Coliseum’s website and YouTube Channel.

Pablo Fanque’s Fantastic Fair: For The Benefit of Pablo is supported by Oldham Coliseum Theatre’s Micro Commissions 2021.

Exploring themes of health and wellbeing, local stories or work for and with young people from Oldham, the Coliseum’s Micro Commissions 2021 respond to the world as we live in it today, over a year on from the beginning of the pandemic.


Pablo Fanque’s Fantastic Fair

Previously released: Angel of History from Digital Artist Grant Archer in collaboration with ballerina Nicky Hensall, actor Shobna Gulati and composer Akshay Gulati is a moving short film exploring what it has meant to be a performer during the pandemic; A Brew, A Terrace and the 184 from Bog Standard Creatives is a tale of growing up in a poverty loop in Oldham; Joyce Branagh’s audio play The Newcomer is the joyful true story of Sophie Wild, a WWII survivor who came to Oldham aged 12 and found acceptance, a calling, and love; Dare to Know Theatre’s verbatim piece telling the stories of health workers at The Royal Oldham Hospital, A Broken Family, Together, Tori Burgess’s audio drama A Tale of Two Giants is based on the Saddleworth folk tale of Alphin and Alderman and Caitlin Gleeson’s One Foot In Front of the Otherexploring health and wellbeing through the lens of walking.

All Oldham Coliseum Micro Commissions 2021 are free to access, however the theatre asks that audiences consider making a donation to help them support more great artists to create new work.