Up for a dare: An acrobat from McLarens Circus swings from trapeze to drapes.

Jenny de Klerk

If you plan to take the kids to Gold Reef City these holidays – and last Saturday it seemed that all of Joburg was already there – don’t miss the circus.

McLaren’s Circus offers a fast-paced hour of entertainment in the Hippodrome twice a day, at noon and 2.30pm, with popcorn and candyfloss, although I missed the traditional smell of sawdust.

There’s plenty of variety, and if the skill level isn’t particularly high, none of the acts lasts long enough to pall.

Colourful spangled costumes, lighting effects and pulsating music sweep through the show.

Among the best acts are the acrobats, both the three men who spin around a pole and dive through fire and the girls who swing daringly on trapeze and drapes.

These days most circuses put the accent on human skills, but this one offers animal acts too.

I admit to mixed feelings about seeing Bengal tigers in the ring, but without doubt they are magnificent creatures.

Easier to handle are the cute little dancing ponies and a boa constrictor that doesn’t do much more than twine.

The kids loved the clown, whose main role in life seemed to be to annoy the ringmaster. Some juggling, fire-eating and a master of illusion who turns dancing girls into tigers complete the cast.

What it does, it does well. Alas, it’s not a patch on the big tops of my youth, but times change. For children and adults who have not seen a circus before, it will be magic.

The rest of the park was buzzing with most of the big rides – the Anaconda, Jozi Express, Golden Loop, UFO and Raging River. The “Bear with Us” signs were up on a couple; pity they could not all be working on the first real day of the holiday season.

For the rest, you take your chances in the queues – and on Saturday they were long. Otherwise, Gold Reef City is still good value for money with plenty to see and do.

Entrance to McLaren’s Magical Circus is free – part of your ticket to the park until January 6.