Tag Archives: circus cardiff

Thirteen years of NoFitState Circus – in photos

Photographer and performer Mark Robson has been documenting the life of local circus institution, NoFitState, for the past thirteen years. Now he’s running a Kickstarter to put the book together – and he needs your help to get them printed! Here he is, to explain his project.

I first got involved with Nofit State Circus in 1995 when I blew up 2 cars for the finale of their show Autogeddon. I joined their board in 2002 and started taking photos of the shows shortly after that. I stayed on the board until 2015 and was involved in a variety of ways, including touring with some of the shows. Throughout all that time, and since, I have been taking photos of Nofit State. For several years I had been dreaming of publishing these photos as a book.

In 2015 Ali Williams (one of the founders of Nofit State) announced she was going to move on to new exciting things and leave Nofit State. I decided to make a book for her as a leaving present using my photos; capturing as many of the shows, communities, and people involved as possible – think of it as a Nofit State Circus family photo album. Although I realised this was going to be a serious amount of work, I still massively under estimated the amount of work it would take. I finished the book and called it ‘Let’s Do It Again’, it was great, but I realised that it was not the book I had been dreaming of.

This project is about that book; a coffee table book full of the wonder, passion and beauty of circus, suitable for all. A book that still covers all the shows but whose focus is the photography whilst still capturing the feel of those shows.

I have taken ‘Let’s do it Again’ as a prototype, edited it down significantly, increased the photo size and quality, added some new photos, changed the structure, included a little more text and looked at better print methods. The work on the book is mostly done.

To make this book a physical reality the next step is printing it. This kickstarter is to enable that to happen by taking pre-orders to cover the printing, design and delivery costs.

The Book

The book is called ‘In nofitstate’ and is for anyone who likes Nofit State, circus or photography. If you like all three then perfect.

In nofitstate’ will be

  • 256 pages,
  • 9.5” square,
  •  litho printed,
  •  hard back,
  •  section sewn binding

It contains over 230 photos dating from 2004 to 2017 and has sections covering community, the shows from immortal to block, backstage shots, and people.

To find out more about the project, visit Mark’s Kickstarter page and SUPPORT!




Ernie Sparkles: circus, boylesque, and all that glitters

We spent some time this week shooting the breeze with hula hooper, performer, lover of glitter and number #1 boylesque performer in Rhiwbina, Ernie Sparkles. Cardiff born and bred, Ernie – aka Gareth Pahl – tells us about growing up in Cardiff, his love of performance and explores a little of the cultural offerings of the city today. Take it away, Ernie!



I was born and raised in this wonderful city of Cardiff a long time ago! Well, 34 years ago, back in the days when Cardiff Bay was full of mud you could throw stones in and make epic splat noises – God that was fun!

Being the son of a builder we were lucky enough to get a great deal on a run-down house in Rhiwbina when I was young, just around the corner from the old Monaco cinema. It was a relatively quiet street with lots of young families so we spent a lot of time playing on the street on our bikes, roller-skates, go karts, whatever as long as it had wheels! We used to play insane games – one of us would have a stick tied to a rope, the others had to cycle around. The game was to throw them off their bike by sticking the stick through their spokes as they cycled past!

Growing up was awesome, I was lucky, I had a good family, good friends. My wonderful Nan would spoil me and my brothers by taking us to the circus, the Monaco cinema, the theatre and then we’d spoil her back by making her watch us re-enact the whole thing when we got home! Mum and Dad worked as hard as they could to raise three boys and keep a roof over our heads (although I remember one winter when the roof was off the house because dad was building a loft extension – the tarpaulin would be flapping away above us).

Cardiff as a city in my childhood was a lot different to now. Town and Cardiff Bay wasn’t as it is now. It’s a shame we lost things like David Morgan’s department store when it all changed, but I think Cardiff is a better place now. We’ve been lucky to receive the investment to make the city as it is now, and it does worry me a little about the future after the weird political shifts of 2016.

I was born at the University Hospital in Heath, and lived in Roath for a year or so before moving to a house in Llanederyn where I lived until the age of five. Then we moved to Rhiwbina to be closer to both sets of grandparents and a bigger house. I don’t really remember much before moving to Rhiwbina. I spent most of my life here in Rhiwbina and this is where I live now (in my wonderful Nan’s house, although unfortunately she’s no longer with us).

At the age of 18 I moved to a farm in Rudry for six months or so, I was helping to put a roof on a historical barn that had its roof blown off in the great storm 1987 (if I remember right). I then moved back to Cardiff and lived in Gabalfa for a year before deciding to move to London in 2003. I lived in Wimbledon for 3 years whilst I did my degree and then bought a house in Rochester with my partner at the time. We lived there for seven years before I moved back to Cardiff.

When I was five, my Mum and Nan bought me tickets to go and see Les Miserables in London. I already knew all the words because we had the soundtrack at home. I was utterly captivated and mesmerised by the show, and on seeing the barricades I knew that I wanted to be a barricade maker. I wanted to be the man who makes the magic that goes on the stage. I spent the rest of my childhood and teenage years watching every single show, studying set and costume design, and just being totally obsessed with theatre. If I wasn’t going to be a designer I was going to be a director, it was one or the other – but really, I wanted to be a designer. Santa bought me a toy theatre – it was run on magnets and it was magical! I used to make sets and characters for it and I’d put on every single show ever made haha! I bet Nan could’ve killed Santa as I made her watch them – she’d have a ticket, she’d have a programme, she’d have to come and watch these epic shows.

In 2003 I was accepted onto the BA(Hons) Theatre Design course at Wimbledon School of Art and there began my adventure into the real world of Theatre Design. I should’ve used this time a bit better to be honest – I did get seduced by the lifestyle of London and so sometimes I wasn’t as focussed as I should have been! But hey, I graduated in 2006 and then never stepped foot in a theatre for about six years – I had a mortgage to pay!

In terms of my careers, lord, what jobs haven’t I done! I’ve been a cleaner, a burger flipper, a carer, a builder, a theatre usher. I was a finance officer at Mencap Cymru for a couple of years before I moved to London, and in London I worked for Seasons Florists in Wimbledon – I loved that job! We made amazing floral displays including Venus Williams’ winner’s bouquet at Wimbledon Championships.

When I moved to Kent I was a finance administrator for Age Concern and later finance manager for Medway Cyrenians – a homeless charity. I loved those jobs too – they were interesting and I’d meet some wonderful people. In 2011 I then trained as a Primary Teacher at Canterbury Christ Church University.

At that time, I also used to teach performance workshops, and do a bit of set and costume design here and there. I ran an annual carnival with local communities and produced various events.

I moved back to Cardiff in 2012 where I worked as a primary teacher for several years until 2016 when I decided I had had enough and needed to go back to my love – theatre. I now work as a freelance set and costume designer, model maker, performance artist, director and choreographer at Sparkles Hoop Troupe and Scratch This producer. I do a bit of everything really and I always love it that way!

 In 2014 I became quite poorly after a child sneezed into my eye!  I was ill for so long after that and needed to get fit to get through it. I have always been rubbish at exercise and the gym so I needed to find something that would grab my attention. A friend recommended NoFit State circus community classes and I thought why not give it a go! I went to the aerial beginners’ class and have been hooked ever since! I started training in aerial hoop and static trapeze as well as my love – flying trapeze. I have been training for two years now and was starting to get good, but I haven’t trained for a couple of months now for various reasons, but I’m keen to start training again soon.

Around about the same time I started learning to hula hoop with Elliecoptor Pilott at the Abacus. I was useless at it but determined to nail it so I practiced every day for months and months. Six months later me and Ellie set up Sparkles Hoop Troupe as a fun way of encouraging people to use the hoop skills they had been learning by putting them into group dance routines. It really took off and here we are two years later having had so many gigs and bookings! Last summer we were performing at festivals and events nearly every weekend from May until September! We are lucky to have such fun and dedicated ‘Sparklettes’.

A lot of my time is now spent on managing Sparkles Hoop Troupe with Ellie. We’re a great team because she is great at managing the bookings and all the admin side, whereas I’m more creative so I make the costumes, edit the audio tracks, etc. We both take charge at directing and choreographing! We’ve taken off and now we’re starting to get professional bookings on the cabaret circuit which is great fun! Myself and Ellie have also started masterclasses in hoop choreography, we were recently in Bournemouth teaching and that was so much fun!

I also produce a circus scratch night called Scratch This! The circus scene in Cardiff is expanding what with NoFit State and their community classes, but also companies like Mary Bijou etc. It’s great that this scene is expanding and we love to give opportunities to performers both professional and community based who want a performance platform to try out new ideas and get valuable friendly feedback. Our first three shows were well received and all sold out! We’re starting to get a good reputation as a good fun show to come and try out ideas in a supportive and relaxed environment. Our show on the 11 February was our best yet and we were so lucky to have had so many wonderful cast and crew involved. We have struck up a great working relationship with Cardiff Speaker Hire – the venue we use, they are great and we love working with them!

Recently I have started following my interests in clown and have been on a few clowning courses. It’s been great fun and I’ve noticed big changes in my performances since. It’s something I want to do more of! I’ve been working with Alison John from Yello Brick and Hannah McPake from Gagglebabble setting up a regular play space where people can come and play games and mess around! You can find out more at Shakedown Cardiff or why not come and play on the 2 April at WMC!


Now, let’s talk about Ernie Sparkles – bless him, that silly jumpsuit obsessed boy always on the hunt for unicorns and fabulousness! He came from planet glitter or something ridiculous like that! Again, like most things that happen to me – it happened by chance! He started off as a bit of silly fun for a friend’s wedding cabaret. Having seen Immodesty Blaize in London back in 2005 I have always had a silly fantasy about being a boylesque dancer! So, when a friend wanted a cabaret at her wedding party I put myself forward to do a silly routine under the name Mr Sparkles. That was the first ever showing of Ernie’s ‘Milkshake’ routine and now two years later its being booked by various cabarets around the country! Hilarious really!

He grew from there really, he’s a bit like me in that he likes to keep his fingers in lots of pies! He’s obviously a regular at Sparkles Hoop Troupe and he compere’s Scratch This, he also has his boylesque routines. Last year Ernie and I created a ‘one man show’ for Made in Roath called ‘The Fabulous Unicorn Inquiry’ and it was a show exploring fabulous and whether it was a phenomenon limited to only unicorns. It was weird putting him and me on stage together but good fun!

Recently he was followed by some student film makers creating a documentary about Boylesque – Sparkles The Movie we like to call it! I’m looking forward to seeing how that turns out!

I don’t know why but I always refer to him as a different person! I mean, he’s clearly me but then me and him are so different! I guess it just helps me to define him as a character if I do – he’s just an exaggerated version of me I guess but I couldn’t live my everyday life like that – people would think I’ve gone mad! Maybe I already have?!

So you want to know about my plans and ambitions for the future? NO! I promised myself to live every day for itself and not plan! I have dreams and hopes, and then I have realistic ambitions and plans! I guess I want to carry on developing and building my profile as a designer, model maker, theatre maker and make enough out of that to live happily ever after! A tough one I think, but I’ve been freelance now for nearly seven months and I’m still alive! I wouldn’t go back to a full-time job like before, na-uh, not ever!

Obviously, I’d like to build Ernie’s profile too, and this year we’re getting him into some good gigs in some respected cabarets and burlesque shows. Although I’ve got a history of performance, Ernie is relatively new and so he’s still trying to find his feet and define himself! Yes, we make mistakes but mistakes are proof that we are trying, we need them to learn and grow from and that’s the fun of living!

I have friends pass away too soon in jobs they weren’t happy in, I don’t want to be like that, I promised myself that wouldn’t be me. I want to love what I do, and the moment I don’t is the moment I find something else. I do know that I am lucky enough to be able to be able to live like that though, I am lucky and thankful for it.

I guess in the future you could possibly see more of Ernie on the performance scene here, more Scratch This Cabarets and eventually some other shows. You can see Sparkles Hoop Troupe continuing to grow and delighting audiences. You may one day also see more of my design work – but sadly I don’t think I’ll ever be the one that makes the barricade!


We are so lucky to have so many creative people in Cardiff. We’ve so many good things here across many genres. On the cabaret scene, we have Mary Bijou Cabaret and Social Club for circus cabaret, Cardiff Cabaret Club which is burlesque, and of course Scratch This which covers anything and everything! I’m sure there are more that I haven’t seen yet. It would be lovely if there was a regular cabaret bar or something but the frequency of these shows now means they really are something to look forward to! I think the biggest shame however is the loss of the Blysh festival, that was an awesome festival and it’d be great if we could have it back!

Cardiff’s art scene is incredible, it really is! Having lived in London for so long, I was spoilt by the arts scene and what was on offer, but it was expensive and exhausting. The arts scene here is so much more relaxed and enjoyable – I guess there are several factors – it’s a smaller city so there’s more of a community feel, creative people here are looking out for each other, people in Cardiff are generally very supportive and encouraging – and that really is magic! There are so many artists and performers here that work hard to create some incredible work. This last year I have seen some incredible stuff come out of the city across many genres. It’s also relatively easy to create opportunities here, and that’s wonderful.

I speak generally here, I mean I’m not naïve enough to believe it’s perfect, like everything there are politics and crap, but then everything has those aspects and we just must learn to get on with it and stay true to ourselves. I believe Cardiff’s art scene is ace and I think we should be proud of our arts scene here.

My perfect Cardiff weekend for visitors would depend on who was coming and what was on! One of my favourite ‘touristy’ places in Cardiff is St Fagans – just because it’s probably the cutest place in the whole world! I also absolutely love the waterfalls in Brecon – Pontneddfechan, Sgwyd Eira is just the most empowering and majestic place – especially after a heavy downfall – it’s incredible! If we were staying in the city, then I would take them for a coffee at one of the coffee shops like Penylan Pantry, or Barkers. Afterwards to a show – at one of our many theatre venues followed by lots of lovely beer in Porters, or Brewdog, followed by some live music down at Gwdihw.

The last group of friends that came to stay with me had to come and watch my last Scratch This cabaret. They loved it!

Find out more:

Scratch This Facebook

All photography by Lorna Cabble


NoFit State Circus announces a new home, and some exciting events!

Exciting news for Cardiff’s resident circus, the world-renowned NoFit State – they’ve got a new home, they’re going to be exploring their history through a new archive launch, and putting on an exciting community performance as a last hoorah at their current John Street hangout!

The circus moved into the John Street building five years ago (the building is the previous home of the Welsh National Orchestra). The circus will be saying their thanks and farewells to the building in our big weekend of performance, installations and exhibitions called Journeys.

Journeys – John Street, 11 – 13 December


Surrounded by big changes, movements and announcements, NoFit State are bringing everything together for an extraordinary community performance and installation event, in true NoFit State style.

Under the artistic direction of long-term collaborator Paul Evans (Crashmat Collective, Flying Diplodocus) comes Journeys, a weekend long celebration that interweaves two promenade performances in and around John Street on 12 and 13 December with their AGM and Archive Exhibition launch.

They are looking for creative ideas, hidden talents, and suggestions on what the event should be. If you would like to contribute in some way, big or small then let them know on their interactive form.

Journeys Facebook Event

NoFit State Archive Launch

Friday 11 December, 7pm, Four Elms
(running until 23 December 2015)


You may think you know the story of NoFit State, but wouldn’t it be great to see it, hear it and explore it? Well now you can.

A year ago, with their 30th year approaching, a dedicated team of volunteers, board and staff members came together with a shared dream of assembling the brilliantly chaotic history to create an official NoFit State archive.

Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and with help from Glamorgan Archives, The Cardiff Story Museum and the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, the intrepid team has produced a fantastic new digital and physical exhibition to be launched at the Four Elms building on Friday 11 December.

NoFit State Archive Exhibition: More information

Read more on the NFS Archive blog

Where are they moving to?

For the time being, NoFit State will be moving their community and circus education programme to Cardiff Central Sports and Community Centre on Ocean Way. The space is double the length of the John Street building, with enough room and facilities to accommodate their current programme. It’s not their forever home – but it’s a good place to start.


NoFit State Circus website

NoFit State Circus Facebook page


NoFit State Circus – Archive Project launch

We’ve featured the internationally acclaimed, Cardiff-based contemporary circus, NoFit State on here a couple of times before. This January, the circus has begun work on a yearlong project to archive the company’s history and heritage.  The project, supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund will catalogue a huge archive of printed material, artefacts, film, photos and documentation covering the company’s 30 year history and will culminate in an exhibition and a new interactive website.

NoFit State Circus - Bianco by Seventh Wave

Bianco on tour, 2014

The project titled ‘From Ball’s Up to Bianco’ will tell the story of how a group of youthful Cardiff-based jugglers assisted by thousands of performers, crew, advocates, audience members and partners became directors of one of the most successful contemporary circuses of the century. It will also show the impact NoFit State has had on the growth of contemporary circus in the UK and further afield, as well as how well rooted it remains in the community of Cardiff. 

NoFit State Tent and audience

The Big Top at the Bath Fringe Festival 1999

Ali Williams, founder member and now Creative Director of the company comments, “It’s really very exciting to be starting this project, and to be working with experts from Glamorgan Archive and The Cardiff Story Museum to make some sense of all our archive which we have been collecting and storing for so many years. It’s a great fusion between the creative and heritage sectors and very pertinent to our local Cardiff community”.

NoFit State was born in Splott, and the company opened their new professional training space on Four Elms Road in 2014 while maintaining their community training space on John Street in the city centre. Recent tented tours have taken the company as far as Australia to Perth Festival. Currently, their show Bianco is part of the International Circus Festival in Marseilles and Noodles, the company’s theatre show will be presented at this year’s London International Mime Festival.

“It’s really a ‘done good’ story,” says Liz Lavender, Volunteer Co-ordinator for the project, “and we hope it will inspire people in many ways. We will be running a volunteering programme so people with very varied interests can be involved. We hope through working with local people through Volunteering Cardiff we can involve people in the whole process, from specialised activities where training will be given in oral history recording and editing for example to preservation techniques, event coordination, administration, web development and exhibition creation”.

For more information or to get involved contact liz@nofitstate.org.

NoFit State are also keen to hear form anyone who has memories of seeing or being involved with any of the company’s community based shows or activities in the past.

About NoFit State

NoFit State was founded in 1986 by five friends. During a politically charged time, in a recession, and as a creative reaction to the world around them, the circus was born. Today, NoFit State is the UK’s leading large-scale contemporary circus company, producing professional touring productions and a wide variety of community, training, and education projects for people of all ages. www.nofitstate.org


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Crashmat Collective present – FACADE, Autumn Tour 2014

One of the best performances I saw last year was the Crashmat Collective’s Facade, which I went along to at the Newport Riverfront Centre. Facade is about to set off on an Autumn Tour, which includes a show at the Weston Studio in the Millennium Centre on the 17 October 2014 (book tickets here). If you haven’t seen it, you should TOTALLY GO!

crashmat collective facade 2014

If you haven’t seen Facade already, I strongly recommend it – it’s a night of entertainment set in a cabaret style club, where you get served a three course meal, and the waiters are also performers.

Here’s the blurb:

The Crashmat Collective crew are back on the road this Autumn for a another stuffing (sorry!) of Façade after a sell out run in Spring 2013.

Façade; an intimate and theatrical three course meal, during which, stories unfold in thrilling and touching ways, encircling you as you dine.

Prepare for a feast for the senses, as well as the appetite.

Become enthralled as the Crashmat performers spin, swing and serve at your table. beautiful, funny and always unpredictable, FAÇADE offers a circus-theatre experience that blurs the boundaries between performer and audience.

Your ticket will include a three-course meal. Please specify any dietary requirements while booking. 

(Scroll to the bottom for show dates in the Autumn Tour)

Here’s a lovely interview with Anna Sandreuter, the co-director of Facade, which includes some great rehearsal footage.

Some photos from their rehearsals this time…


The Riverfront, Newport
10-11 Oct
Tickets – 01633 656757 newport.gov.uk/theriverfront

Aberystwyth arts Centre, Aberystwyth
14-15 Oct
Tickets – 01970 62 32 32 aber.ac.uk/artscentre

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
17-18 Oct
Tickets- 029 2063 64 64 wmc.org.uk

Ffwrnes, Llanelli
30-31 Oct
Tickets- 0845 226 3510 theatrausirgar.co.uk

The Albany, London
13-14 Nov
Tickets – 020 8692 4446 thealbany.org.uk

Arts Depot, London
20-22 Nov
Tickets- 020 8369 5454 artsdepot.co.uk

The Hafren, Newtown
26-27 Nov
Tickets – 01686 614555 thehafren.co.uk



Facade Autumn Tour Facebook page

Crashmat Collective Facebook page



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NoFit State Circus – Bianco, Cardiff, 23 May – 7 June 2014

If you’ve recently driven anywhere around the streets just south of John Lewis, underneath the railway bridge, then you’re likely to have seen a large silver spaceship hanging around John Street (where the temporary library was a few years ago). A ha! But this is no silver spaceship. Instead, it’s the temporary big top that’s housing NoFit State’s current show, Bianco. The show is open in Cardiff until 7 June 2014, and I highly recommend you go see it.

NoFit State Circus - Bianco by Seventh Wave

The show toured Cardiff last year, although that time it was situated in the backstage area of the main stage of the Millennium Centre.  The show was originally co-produced by the Eden Project, and I can’t imagine a better place to have watched it in. But back to the space ship, which is Tardis-like and surprisingly roomy. As you’re invited into the big top, the ushers tell you you’ll have a better view if you get right in the middle of it all, so you step in between the large scaffolding, and the action begins. There’s a pulsing soundtrack played by a live band, and suddenly people appear inside the scaffolding, shouting and jeering at each other. It’s high energy and very restless –  and you can’t help but get swept along by it.

There are 15 set pieces led by individual performers, nearly all of which take place in the air (handy, as it’s a standing performance – so you can be standing further back and still feel like you see ‘the big stuff’). Although NoFit State has been based in Cardiff since it was formed back in the 1980s, today the performers come from all over the world, which you hear as they wear microphones through some of their pieces and speak in various languages to the audience.

And there’s all sorts – some very clever juggling; terrifying ariel straps work; incredible twisting, climbing and dropping from ropes; a business man themed strip-tease on the tightrope; and a beautiful trapeze piece underneath a shower of falling snow to finish things off.

I’ve been to see two other NoFit State shows, and it always makes me beam with a little Cardiff city pride that our resident circus is so freaking awesome. If you’re inspired to become super limber and learn some tricks after seeing them (like I always want to!) then you should check out the NoFit State classes, held at their circus base in Cardiff. And if you’re interested, there’s a flying trapeze taster session that runs every other Friday at 6pm (this Friday 30 June is the next one).




Check out the NoFit State FACEBOOK PAGE for regular updates on the progress of their work