Best ‘back-in-time’ entertainments


Cirque Romanès, Paris, France

This is a unique, magical experience, a red-tented Roma circus in the French capital, surrounded by suburban housing blocks. The whole event has a ramshackle, mesmerising passion, with a lost-in-time atmosphere. There are no spangles and sequins here, but circus skills that have been honed outside in the wasteland around the caravans, from fire-eating to tightrope walking, acrobats and jugglers. The women swish and dance in their long skirts, and the soundtrack is frenetic Balkan folk from the live band.

For more information and tickets see

Fairmont Peace Hotel Band, Shanghai, China

Shanghai landmark, the tall, graceful Peace Hotel, overlooking the Bund, is one of the most powerfully resonant relics of old Shanghai. Its time-capsule nature is all the more pronounced as it faces the futurist landscape of Pudong on the opposite riverbank. Renovations have given the hotel’s snazzy Art Deco interiors a facelift, but one thing remains eternal: the Jazz Bar in the basement. There’s an old-school elegance here, and you’ll feel transported back to the 1920s and ‘30s listening to the Old Jazz Band’s six veteran musicians (their average age is 77).

To book or find out more, visit; the band play nightly from 7pm.

Royal Opera House Tea Dance, London, England

Harking back to the days when the Royal Opera House was the place in London to dance the cha-cha, waltz and quick step, there are now regular tea dances throughout the season in the stately Paul Hamlyn Hall. Huge windows overlook the Covent Garden piazza, palms in pots grace the hall, nimble feet of all ages do the steps, and it’s all to the accompaniment of the Royal Opera House Dance Band. Sundays here will transport you back to a seemingly gentler time, when dancing meant gliding around a room rather than throwing shapes.

For dates and to buy tickets see the Royal Opera House website at

Whirling Dervishes, Istanbul, Turkey

At the Silivrikapı Mevlana Cultural Center you can see the ancient spiritual Sema Ceremony, where whirling dervishes spin in order to encourage communication with god and intoxicate the soul, as has been the tradition for hundreds of years. Of course, this is not an entertainment, but an important religious ceremony, but it’s a beautiful event to experience purely aesthetically as well as spiritually. The dervishes spin with complete control, their long robes circling outwards, forming a pattern like stylised blooms.

For information on the regular evening Sema ceremonies, see

El Misteri d’Elx, Spain

The Mystery of Elche is one of the world’s great mystery plays, depicting the Virgin Mary’s death and ascendance into heaven, and is performed every year in the picturesque town of Elche, close to Alicante. The mystical rendering of the story has been performed in this way, in Elche’s Basilica of Santa Maria and the evocative Moorish streets of its palm-shaded old town since the 15th century. To watch is to be suspended in time: it’s medieval to its core, with its epic pomp, flowing robes and solemn, emotive processions. The event is on Unesco’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and was designated a ‘national monument’ in 1931.

For more information see the Elche Tourist Board website at; takes place over two days in mid-August annually.


Greek Tragedy, Amphitheatre, Epidaurus, Greece

To experience theatre as people did in Ancient Greece, head to the amphitheatre of Epidaurus, one of the world’s great buildings, a fan-shaped, open-air auditorium set into a hillside. The amphitheatre is famed for its incredible acoustics – even if an actor speaks quietly, they will be heard from every seat. The theatre is situated within the archaeological site of the Sanctuary of Asklepios, around two hours’ drive from Athens. During the annual summer Athens & Epidaurus Festival there are regular performances of ancient classics, such as plays by Euripides. Attend for an uncanny sense of what the experience was like for theatregoers around 2000 years ago.

For more details see; most performances take place in August and September; book tickets on +30 210-32 72 000.

Qawaali Singers, Delhi, India

Rather than pure entertainment, the Qawaali singers at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin, perform for an important religious, devotional purpose. However, the songs after evening prayers are open to all, and visiting when the performance is taking place is a mystical and evocative experience that should not be missed if you’re in the area. The devotional concert feels as if it has barely changed for hundreds of years; pilgrims collect smouldering incense and buy trinkets to leave at the shrine, and the hypnotic music mesmerises the crowd.

The singing takes place nightly from around sunset at Hazrat Nisamuddin Dargah, Delhi; it’s most spectacular on Thursdays and feast days.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London

Close to the site of the iconic Elizabethan Globe theatre, London’s contemporary Globe was created to evoke the original, a half-timbered theatre-in-the-round, open to the sky. Attending a Shakespeare performance here today is unlike any other theatrical experience, especially if you stand with the ‘groundlings’, the cheapest price ticket, though you don’t have to contend with brawling and lack of toilets as the Elizabethans standing in this area would have. Although you have to stand, there’s no better way to feel involved in the show and close to the action.

To read more, see the program and book tickets, see

Presepe Vivanti (Living Nativity), Sutri, Lazio, Italy

Living Nativities – re-enactments of the story of Jesus Christ’s birth in a stable – take place all over Italy over Christmas. Some are impressive pageants, some small and local recreations of the Christmas story. The one at Sutri in Lazio, a short trip from Rome, is of the latter variety, but deserves particular mention because of its mesmerising, back-in-time setting, which is the hollowed-out Etruscan tombs that surround the town. The scenes are candlelit; the atmosphere compelling. It definitely feels not-of-this-century.

For more information, contact the Sutri Turismo; check the local town hall website at


Balinese Dance, Indonesia

Resembling ancient temple reliefs come to life, Balinese dancers are exquisite, even otherworldly looking, elaborately dressed in outfits of bright colours shot through with delicate gold, with fresh flowers adorning their headdresses. They use stylised hand and feet gestures, as well as eye movements, imbued with ancient meaning. Traditional dances are tied up with religious expression, and tell the stories of the great Hindu epics. But beyond its liturgical function, Balinese dance is also a majestic spectacle, and one that connects you directly to the past.

At Ubud Palace, Jl Raya Ubud, Bali, there are near-nightly performances in a royal setting, while Pura Dalem Ubud Jl Raya Ubud, is one of the prettiest venues.