The Circus Of Horrors – Day Of The Dead

Friday 19th March 2009 – Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone

Circus Of HorrorsThe circus brings out a kind of primordial fear in me. When I see scrawny people swallowing swords, or full grown men with painted faces performing slapstick, or gymnasts dressed in spandex balancing on top of each other, my gut response is not to clap and eat popcorn but to think : Kill them. Kill them with fire.

The only time people should ever be able to fit into suitcases is with the intervention of your local serial killer.

However, when my husband informed me that I was going to see The Circus of Horrors perform in Folkestone, I was optimistic. I was looking forward to seeing something that would push boundaries, that would channel inspiration from acts such as Franko B, that would tap into that core fear of the unknown, that nightmaric carnival of absurdity and spectacle.

I watched a dwarf lift weights with his turgid cock.

Perhaps it is my own fault for expecting too much. In reality, what I witnessed was not so much a circus of horrors, but the bastard love child of Repo the Genetic Opera and Jackass. If this sounds like your idea of bliss, then I can promise you that you will love this show. If this sounds like your idea of hell, well, join the club. I sat through the entire performance with my coat done up to avoid paying out for a rain mac – “You will get covered with bodily fluids” comes the warning – and grimaced as the opening gambit included the very tired “This show will contain language likely to offend, and if you don’t like it, we kindly ask that you FUCK OFF”. Risqué? Maybe in the nineties. Now it just seems prepubescent. Rude words and phalluses, blood and bodices. I can find more offensive material just by typing any random word into google image.

Perhaps I am being too harsh – a very talented turn by The Masked Wrestler aka The Priest aka The Man With The Chains Who Does Some Spinning In A Container Of Water Dyed Red To Look Like Blood – caused me to involuntarily draw breath, and I found myself clapping in approval. However, where the show really falls down flat is the plot. Or vast gaping lack of it.

There is no fault in simply having a showcase of talents, a spectrum of acts. The fault lies in trying to pretend there is an over-arcing plot tying them all together, bridging performances with seemingly random songs with indecipherable lyrics. The best I can surmise is this: They were in a mental ward, in France, and someone died, or perhaps got cut in two, so they went to Mexico to bring them back to life, where someone took a white potion as an excuse for an incredibly drawn out UV lit dance scene, reminiscent of Austin Powers. Then, erm… Some other things happen, and they sing about it. A dwarf sticks a light in his bottom, and it glows, and this means he can stick back together a man who was cut in two. Then we have some more gymnastics, a few more songs, have a break, eat some maltesers, quietly wonder what the hell that was all about, before being launched back into the fray.

Circus Of Horrors

The second half sees a woman’s throat cut with surprisingly dramatic effects – red blooms out in a gasp, caught in the spotlight.

Then, she gets up, puts some rollerboots on, and spins about. A lot. Quite fast.

We see sword swallowing, we see a dwarf lift weights with his penis, we see playing cards stapled to his face, we see him stick a hoover to his penis, and we hear songs. There seems to be some kind of conclusion – rather hastily, and out of nowhere, the circus master is accused of murder, taken up to be hung, the noose is tightened, the body falls, and… spoiler ahoy…

The ringmaster is dead! Or is he…? Here’s the switcharoo. Would you believe that the previously buff looking masked wrestler from earlier on is now revealed to be the ringmaster? Who would have guessed? Well, probably all the people with eyes. Firstly, because the dummy they hung was so unconvincing, and the switch rather ham fisted. Secondly, it’s also rather easy to spot the big reveal when the Masked Wrestler changes height, has grey hair sticking out of his mask, and a wealth of grey chest hair on display.

As for the body fluids they warn against? You occasionally get splashed with water (seemingly only to justify them asking for money for rainmacs) but in the second half some lucky soul gets phlegm from a swallowed sword flung onto them. The performers are very, very lucky it wasn’t me. Rainmac, no rainmac, I could be wearing a giant condom or a biohazard suit for all it matters, if someone lobs thready spittle on me I will destroy everything in a twenty metre radius, and not stop until my blood lust is satiated. Not edgy, not dark, just grim.

Anyway, another song, some dancing. A bizarre giant inflatable vacuum cleaner, for no better reason than they can.


Would I recommend this show? Depends how much I like you, I suppose. Genuinely talented performers suffer from a set up that has lost its shock factor, and from hastily cobbled together framing for disparate acts. Scenes run too long, meaning what would have been, in passing, shocking, soon fades into tedium. The presentation of a man with a split tongue, or “free floating” ribs, or many tattoos is no longer a spectacle – my local pub offers much of the same. The direction fails to take into account those in the side seats, meaning that the interval heralded a scrabble to take up the vacant spaces in the central row. The Circus of Horrors has been running since 1995, and was something of a legend when I was a teenager. I can’t help but think it needs something new – a fresh take, a fresh direction, or perhaps just an influx of new blood, to carry it into 2010.

Conclusion : Moments of brilliance lost in a tired, confused setting.

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