Big Top. Image shows from L to R: Geoff (John Thomson), Lizzie (Amanda Holden), Helen (Sophie Thompson). Copyright: Big Bear Films
Big Top

Big Top

  • TV sitcom
  • BBC One
  • 2009
  • 6 episodes (1 series)

Fraught with problems and dealing with a cacophony of egos, Ring Mistress Lizzie must struggle to keep Circus Maestro going. Stars Amanda Holden, John Thomson, Sophie Thompson, Tony Robinson, Ruth Madoc and Bruce Mackinnon

Character guide

Big Top. Lizzie (Amanda Holden). Copyright: Big Bear Films


Ring Mistress.   Played by: Amanda Holden

Lizzie the Ring Mistress has grown up in the circus, like her mother and grandmother before her. She has no discernible talent - she can't balance on a tightrope, can't catch a club - but she knows the workings of the circus, loves the spotlight, rising to take on the role of ringmistress, the only member of the troupe who doesn't need any circus skills.

Lizzie is enthusiastic, eternally optimistic, sometimes ruthless - and she's no fool. When her father was sent to prison for fraud, Lizzie became the person in charge of the circus and here, at last, finds something she is good at - management.

She has the opportunity and the ability to raise Circus Maestro from a small-time concern to the huge, fabulous spectacular it has always pretended to be.

The problem is that the people she is trying to manage are a mixture of family members, temperamental artistes and downright scammers. Each member of the troupe is an obstacle to Lizzie's success. But she loves the circus too much to abandon it. And that same affection stops her making the hard-headed business decisions the circus needs to survive - like sacking her uncle Geoff...

Big Top. Geoff (John Thomson). Copyright: Big Bear Films


Clown.   Played by: John Thomson

Geoff is the brother of Lizzie's dad, the previous ringmaster and owner of the circus, who is now in prison. Lizzie would dearly love to sack her uncle, but just hasn't got the heart.

Geoff is a dedicated clown, but doesn't have a funny bone in his body. He has read every book on the theory and history of comedy (he's even written one), but when it comes to actually making other human beings laugh, he just can't.

This doesn't dent his confidence in any way. If the audience aren't enjoying themselves, it's their own fault for not concentrating. And he'll keep entertaining them with his bizarrely dark acts until they laugh. And if they still don't laugh, he gets angry.

Deep down Geoff probably knows that he is a lousy performer, but he covers it by having a large ego. He would love to be a stand-up comedian, and writes off for auditions, but is constantly rejected. Geoff hates Boyco because he is talented and in love with Lizzie. He hates the idea of them ever getting married - it would put Boyco in charge of the circus, and he is already the star of the show. Geoff therefore undermines him at every opportunity.

But there is another side to him when he's alone in the caravan with wife Helen. He's much more vulnerable, and she's the powerful one. He needs her to bolster his confidence, which she duly does - and he does what she tells him to.

Big Top. Helen (Sophie Thompson). Copyright: Big Bear Films


Clown.   Played by: Sophie Thompson

Helen functions as a sort of straight man to her husband, Geoff, who she absolutely adores and considers to be a comedy genius... which he isn't.

Helen is a mother figure to Geoff and sometimes the rest of the troupe, especially Lizzie, and has a heart of gold. On the surface she doesn't appear quite on the same planet as the rest of us, but constantly surprises with comments that are often reason in amongst the madness. She is very honest and often misinterprets the threads of conversations, which makes her appear naive. Sarcasm, for example, is one of her blind spots.

Helen loves Geoff unconditionally, but knows deep down that he is rubbish. She's like a proud mum and protects him, where she can, from the world, constantly boosting his fragile ego. She even rewrites his rejection letters when he applies for stand-up comedy jobs.

With another partner, Helen might actually have been quite a good clown, and she has lots of ideas for the act, but is never allowed to use them. Geoff is in complete control profesionally.

Having learned to accept her fate - she's resigned to her marriage and ever-optimistic about life - she has low expectations.

Big Top. Erasmus (Tony Robinson). Copyright: Big Bear Films


Sound Technician and Accounts Manager.   Played by: Tony Robinson

Erasmus, the sound technician and accounts manager, is cynical, manipulative and callous.

It really irritates him that he's stuck with a bunch of what he thinks are talentless idiots. He has no emotional attachment to the circus at all and his attitude towards the performers borders on contempt.

There is no way he would ever demean himself by stepping into the ring itself and he is happy to play his music from up high, away from the cheesy glitz below. He derives some satisfaction, though, by playing the wrong sound effects and music cues for the acts they are performing.

Erasmus will do anything to get rich, and is frustrated by Lizzie, who doesn't let him run scams as comfortably as her dad did, yet at the same time he has a sneaking respect for her intelligence. In some ways Erasmus is the most perceptive, least deluded of the lot.

Big Top. Georgie (Ruth Madoc). Copyright: Big Bear Films


Played by: Ruth Madoc

Georgie is the grande dame of Circus Maestro, a vain old-timer who has been in circuses for years with various acts.

She now works with her small dog, David, who she often uses to get what she wants - "David's not happy with the size of our caravan", "David insists on bottled water and not tap".

Georgie feels superior to everyone and everything around her and acts entirely out of self-interest. The truth is that she doesn't care about her pet - she uses him to hide behind her demands for more money or better conditions.

Big Top. Boyco (Bruce Mackinnon). Copyright: Big Bear Films


Acrobat.   Played by: Bruce Mackinnon

Boyco is young, fit and dazzingly talented. He's also an alien abroad so is naive in the ways of the English world.

As a result, the whole troupe takes advantage of him as his boyish enthusiasm gets up the noses of the cynical and negative members of the ensemble (particularly Erasmus and Geoff). If only he had a decent agent and the appropriate immigration documents he could make a fortune.

The rest of the troupe are grudgingly aware that Boyco is the star of the show - without him Circus Maestro would go down the pan - and so they are all desperate to keep him at any cost. Ever the optimist, Boyco is the only member of the circus who really believes that they are all fantastic and highly skilled.

He is also in love with Lizzie and tries to protect her from the world, often not at the best moments. He has been studying English and is rather good at it now, commanding a large vocabulary - probably larger than any of the troupe. But he doesn't argue when they describe him as "that Eastern European acrobat whose English isn't very good".

Boyco thinks Geoff is a genius and is the only one who laughs at his jokes.

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