The Newcastle Circus Fest 2023 – Review (UK)

The first ever Newcastle Circus Fest took place from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th of March 2023.

The convention kicked off at 7pm on the Friday night at the John Marley Centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne with the opening of the venue and practise spaces. There were no formal workshops or events scheduled for the Friday with the emphasis being to come to the venue and hang out with friends, however, the practise spaces were open for early Friday night juggling as well if you wanted it.

Sleeping was available in one of the classrooms of the venue as well as live-in vehicles. We chose to arrive on the Saturday morning as it was advertised very early on that there were no showering facilities at the venue.

Travel, Arrival and Venue

Prior to setting off from Leeds, I enjoyed some impromptu ice skating on the front drive and managed to remain standing despite travelling about a meter towards the car. Those with grippy shoes sadly miss out on this activity at this time of year. Safely secreted into the car, Jenni and I settled for a radio station which played music we knew rather than music we liked, and the journey began in earnest. Aside from some amusingly poor white lines on the A1 around Darlington, a Star Wars revelation (‘Han fired first!’), and a salute to the Angel of the North we arrived at the venue in good time and without major incident.

The John Marley Centre is tucked behind some houses on an otherwise unremarkable residential street on the west side of Newcastle. We pulled into a large car park and stepped out into warm sunshine and birdsong; it was very idyllic. This was slightly spoilt, as we walked toward the main entrance, by a creepy old gentleman staring fixatedly at us out of an upstairs window as we approached. As it turned out, this was a dummy and was one of the many slightly strange and unusual pieces to be found throughout the building…

Can you spot him looking out the window?

The Newcastle Circus Fest media team had done a wonderful job prior to the event with a brilliant promotional video. I really enjoyed it and actually watched it several times as it had such a ‘feel good’ vibe (for your enjoyment: I was looking forward to groups of Newcastle jugglers waving signs and arrows to direct us to the convention and being utterly delighted to welcome us to the event. Although slightly subdued when compared to the promotional video, we were still very warmly welcomed by Adam, Jolien and Mike at reception and made to feel at home.

The reception area boasted a fine looking raffle, useful local information and maps and a stall from the Cascade Juggling store who were selling a great selection of new shiny toys. As we made our way towards the main juggling space, we passed by the workshop timetables which were crammed with all sorts of varied and interesting workshops. This was by far the most exciting workshop board offering that I had seen at a convention for a while, so we took a bit of time previewing that.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.

The main juggling space comprised of a large hall (approx. 2200 sq ft.) with a stage area at the far end access by two sets of stairs. We found Joe hard at work unpacking and setting up various lighting rigs and stands to be used for the evening gala show.

The Centre is a creative space populated by local artists who use workshop spaces as well as individual studios to create and develop their art. As we wandered around the labyrinthine corridors, we peered into many of the studios and saw a real range of arty things going on. There was also an onsite shop where you could buy various pieces of furniture and art. For future years, I would love to have a ‘Newcastle Circus Fest Eye-Spy’ trail whereby you have to spot certain things around the building and tick them off as you go in order to win a prize. This would be an entertaining diversion from the serious juggling and workshops as people try to find the blasphemous vending machine, the entirely inappropriate coat rail, and the frightening demon bunny to name but a few.

The venue is full of creative spaces where creative things happen creatively.

The convention had started on the Friday night, so the main hall on the Saturday was very relaxed and chilled throughout the morning. I mistakenly started the day with some light-hearted club juggling warm-ups without changing into my sports apparel. The foolishness of this became apparent when I lacerated my hand on a buckle on the back pocket of my jeans while doing a trebla. I spent the majority of the morning then applying saliva to the affected area and testing the area to see if the bleeding would stop, which thankfully it eventually did.

Lunch and Workshops

Jenni and I went to the Co-Op to buy some lunch to supplement my diet of platelets and white blood cells. I settled for a sandwich of 3x reds and 1x orange while Jenni found a more respectable 2x green and 2x orange. Back at the venue, we enjoyed lunchtime conversation with Jo who hilariously commented that the Fisherman’s Friends Musical wasn’t very saleable (geddit?).

The hall was getting busier by now with different groups filtering in and out of the main hall to attend the workshops. Jenni went along to the Handstand workshop but came back early as it turns out some of the workshop spaces were small ‘lobby’ areas which the corridors passed through. This is not ideal for activities like hand standing where a clear floor space to land and kicking at head height are commonplace.

A very relaxed hat juggling workshop.

Adrian and I enjoyed an excellent numbers passing session in the hall where we just about equalled our best run of the 10-club 2 count. This is one of my favourite two person passing patterns at the minute because of the endurance element and eventual corrections that start creeping into the pattern. It’s just such a fun challenge to try and keep it running!

Combat Workshop and Tournament

During the afternoon, I ran the workshop for combat juggling (3 club gladiators) whereby players fight each other one on one and aim to be the last juggler still juggling 3 clubs. A few of the regular combat players have started to run these workshops at UK conventions to increase participation in the tournaments but also to give tips and techniques to play safely and to improve everyone’s game.  We have a standard format of exercises to be done in pairs and as a solo juggler to practise different aspects of the game. A really nice group attended, and we all had a good laugh as we ran through the workshop, and I really pleased that most people stayed on afterwards to take part in the tournament itself.

In another bid to increase participation in UK combat tournaments, the British Series has been launched. Rather than the British Juggling Convention Tournament winner getting an automatic invite to the end of year finals in Berlin, now the player with the most accumulated points from all UK tournaments will go. Additionally, we have started having trophies for the podium finishers as well as a special prize for the highest finishing player in a tournament who has not yet had a podium finish. Hopefully these things combined will draw in some more interested players and keep them playing and improving.

Early signs are good with a bunch of new enthusiastic players at this tournament. Congratulations to everyone who took part and especially to Allan for his highest tournament finish yet. A full run-down of the tournament can be found here:

The ‘blasphemous vending machine’ and a bunch of combat jugglers.

Show Prep

After the tournament, Jenni and I snuck offsite to check into our offsite accommodation (we class showers as an essential rather than an optional) which was a mere 10 mins drive from the venue. A lot can happen in ten minutes. I feel like the town planners had a real fight with geography when designing the road layouts in Newcastle, and there is still no clear winner. One section of the road felt like spaghetti junction but splatted against a hillside, all sorts of weird flyovers and quick lane changes to circle backwards and under roads you previously on, I was giddy.

Back at the venue, the main hall had been transformed into a show venue with bench seating and cabaret style tables set out for groups to sit around. It felt a little like the Durham convention show except missing the bar (for drinks, that is).

I was performing my new club juggling routine, so I spent a bit of time getting ready and went through the teching on stage. I like being in shows where Joe is tech, the lights were inoffensive but showed the performers well, music cues were spot on, from a technical standpoint there was nothing to complain about. The only thing missing was an actual stage manager to tie everything together. Kudos to Dan, our stagehand, who spotted this and then assumed the role himself and managed to bring the show together. I got to watch most of the acts during the tech run and was excited by the skills on show. A very varied line-up and not a single bad act, good work Nat for pulling all that together.


Millie was the compere for the evening and demonstrated a lot of confidence on stage and some good lines which made the audience laugh.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.

The show opened with a huge unicycle display from the kids of Circus Central in Newcastle. It went down a storm an excellent opener for the show. Well done to: Liz, Flo, Etta, Alfie, Freddie, Mia, Niamh, Ciara, Issac, Luke and Rufus.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.


Next up was Jon Peat who dazzled the audience with his costume but not necessarily with his juggling. I really enjoyed performing but could have done with fewer heckling children, not so keen on that. I spent the rest of the first half hidden behind a curtain on the stage from which there was no exit.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.














Mr Freak performing a mind bending body bending routine which elicited a few horrified noises from the audience. It was in equal parts very funny and unsettling, I enjoyed it a lot.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.














Bob brought a large box onstage and proceeded to unpack and manipulate a large selection of metal tube sections. These were then built into various shapes which could be spun and juggled. It was a clever and well thought out routine with some very funny moments, but Bob’s expressions and presentation really sold the routine.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.














Callum and Melanie performed a duo acro routine with Melanie playing the part of a lifeless puppet. Again, I was peeping through a curtain to see the routine and was really impressed with Melanie’s glazed fixed expression which she held throughout the entire routine, it was impressive. There were some excellent tricks and handstands, and it was a very well-crafted routine. Callum made a surprise spur of the moment decision to place Melanie behind my curtain on the stage, I had an excellent view of their shocked faces when they pulled back the curtain and found me there, and the left-hand side of the audience probably got a great a view of me leaping off from my little chair and scrambling out of their way! Melanie and I then send an awkward few minutes trapped in quite a small space together exchanging pleasantries and small talk until the first half was brought to a close and we could sneak off backstage again.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.

The raffle would have benefitted from an efficient method of transferring the prizes to the winners, but other than that there were no major disasters. The tickets all had dissimilar colours which reduced confusion, and hilarity. Lisa won the much coveted prize of the convention ticket for the Leeds Juggling Convention 2023!

Freya performed a very hypnotic freestanding aerial hoop routine. All kinds of poses linked with smooth transitions. It was a really delightful performance and was very slick.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.














Rowan performed her hula hoop routine full of big smiles, big tricks and timed very well with the music. It’s one of my favourite hula hoop routines of recent years and a joy to watch each time I see it.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.

Tasha performed a stunning routine handstand routine while also catching balls on her feet and passing balls between her feet. Amazing tricks performed with fluidity and grace. It really was spectacular. Despite being the first time it was performed it was very polished, the mark of a real professional.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.














Colin performed a very techy ball poi routine filled with some really hard and challenging tricks. It was a really cool routine with some neat balancing tricks in the beginning, loads of varied and different looking patterns with up to three poi and an awesome scissor catch. Got a great audience reception.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.














Matthew Green (Greeny) headlined the show with an array of different combination tricks all held together with bags of stage presence and a fabulous moustache. Some excellent ball spinning on a mouth stick tricks and, of course, the signature headstand ring spinning finale. Very slick performance with a glamorous assistant, they both looked like they were having a great time, it rubbed off on the audience big time.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.














After the curtain call, I packed away all my show paraphernalia and joined in with the ritual after show pizza fest. Excellent timing on the food delivery! After chatting to a few folks, Jenni and I excused ourselves, snuck off to the car and left again to tackle the maze that is Newcastle.

Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.


Jenni and I had saved money by choosing a hotel without breakfast included. As such, we took a short trip out to Toby Carvery having never experienced their breakfast before. We enjoyed mixing with the ‘regulars’ and we were both pleased with the bottomless offerings. I have no idea what everyone who slept at the venue had for breakfast as there was no onsite café or eatery.

Jenni had elected to explore Newcastle, so I waved her off on the bus and headed back to the venue.

It was quite quiet in the morning; I presume most people had enjoyed juggling late into the night and were sleeping it off. I did some solo juggling until Cameron arrived and we had a very good passing session. Enjoyed lots of body throws and silly tricks in ultimates before moving onto the 10 clubs and trying 11. Great session.

Kotaro’s Ktwist

I went to Steve’s Kotaro’s Ktwist workshop which was brilliantly planned and delivered. He has successfully broken down what looks like a complicated trick into very accessible teaching blocks and was able to guide us all through the steps of learning the pattern. I really enjoyed the workshop and learnt a new trick, cracking!

The Games

Dan was an excellent host for the games, managing to keep everyone amused and entertained with his amusing banter but also his insistence on creating new ‘traditions’ for the new convention. The prizes included sweeties but also gold paper plates with the name of the game emblazoned across them. These were an excellent idea!

The first of these new traditions was the ‘how many juggling balls into the pair of trousers game…’ Volunteers would stand and have juggling balls dropped down their trousers until no more could be added, then they would be counted and the person with the most balls down their trousers would win… winning is a very loosely defined term. Needless to say, I kept a close hold on my own balls lest they should end up in someone else’s trousers.

3 ball Simon says is another classic convention game with plenty of opportunities for silliness, this was followed by the long distance hat pass. Adrian and I went up to give it a try, I promptly failed all of my practice throws and wasn’t convinced we would do well. Adrian however demonstrated some nifty headwork and managed to scoop the hat out of the air onto his head winning us the game, hazzah!

Lisa won the hula hoop gladiators with a ruthless display and Greeny won the club balance endurance, both winning paper plates.  I took part in the club balance and won a sore neck.

I won the 5 ball endurance as it seems that nobody else practices the 5 up flash, who knew.

Diabolo in a box was made very funny by the ‘safety first’ remarks by Dan. Once again, I found myself wondering ‘what happened to all of the diabolists’? There used to be load of them and now it just feels like they have all left the juggling scene, is there a special place where all the diaboloists have gone…?

In contrast the handstand endurance had a high uptake with Nat and Tasha being the last two standing. It was only when a hula hoop was thrown over Nat did he falter but Tasha managed to keep going despite the hoop being thrown over her, outstanding display!

The next game was ‘people surfing’, a race in which one stands on the back of another who crawls on all fours to the finish line and then suffers with a lifetime of spinal problems… I am not usually a fan of this game. I think it’s dangerous for people who don’t know what they are doing and watching it makes me feel sorry for all the little vertebrae. However, it was actually very impressive as the suffers had to climb through a hula hoop as part of the racecourse. Obviously, Tasha and Greeny won this one.

People surfing but with extra opportunity for serious injury.

Another classic Dan line was that ‘these games are fun, not fair!’

The long distance club passing was won by Cameron and Adrian and Nat won the unicycle gladiators, and that completed the games.

I ended up in the Green Room with Adrian and the Hoop Troop where we all had a good practise session. We were joined by Tasha and Greeny and we had ourselves a mini convention. Eventually at about 4pm, the organisers very gently kicked us all out of the building. We said our goodbyes and departed.



Newcastle Circus Convention is a fantastic new addition to the UK juggling calendar. It has the vibe of the Durham Juggling Conventions and was very well organised.

The venue is pretty quirky but has good juggling spaces and an excellent show venue onsite. It would be good if more rooms could be opened up for workshops to take place in, rather than having some crowded corridors (but wow, what a great selection of workshops!).

The abundance of workshops took a lot of pressure off from the main juggling spaces. I think if everyone at the convention all wanted to be in the main hall to juggle at the same time then it would get pretty hot and sticky rather quickly.

There are a variety of eateries nearby and a Sainsbury’s local nearby to pick up supplies and lunchtime foods, the venue is also conveniently located for the A1.

Overall, a smashing convention! My thanks and congratulations to the organising team for laying on such an excellent, and hopefully annual, event.


*I am indebted to Victoria Cracknell for providing the pictures for this review*

You should check out her event photography portfolio page and other work:


Photo Credit: Victoria Cracknell.

I am Jon Peat.

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