This year Stoke celebrates 250 years of Philip Astley’s modern-day circus. So, it makes sense that The Circus of Horrors would return to the birthplace of the man who made it all possible to give residents a taste of this weird and wonderful circus performance.
Beginning act one, Beelzebum the self-appointed “gaylord of the underworld” introduces the show. He immediately sets the tone of the performance with his amusing but crude one liners that reveal why the show is neither family friendly or for the faint-hearted.
Its been 22-years since The Circus of Horrors first started performing. Since then, Ringmaster and creator, Doktor Haze and his line-up have made appearances on many TV shows including being a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent as well as performing at festivals around the world.
The theme of this installation is voodoo. The story is based on the descendants of the Harmond family who after playing with a Ouija board unleash the spirit of the voodoo king -a man enslaved by the family in the 1800s.
While some acts do stand independent of the theme, the set dressing helps to tie them back in. Bloody crosses and heads on spears decorate the stage while the costumes bring the theme to life as voodoo dolls run through the audience as the voodoo king contorts his body on stage. Dark lighting and smoke fill the area, giving the instant feeling you have stepped into a darker realm.
Many of the performers have a unique take on traditional circus acts, incorporating their own horror twist to leave you in both shock and awe. Including the voodoo warrior dancers who use fire and acrobatics, or another performer who cuts open his own stomach live on-stage.
However, not all performances hit the mark. The main drawback is the musical efforts of Doktor Haze. A capable ringleader able to engage effectively with the audience, his constant singing in most cases isn’t to the same standards of the visuals acts presented so often falls flat, bring down the quality of the whole production.
One way to really bring The Circus of Horrors into the premier league would be to drop the singing and really hone in on the humorous interactions between Beelzebum and Doktor Haze and with the audience. The two are highly entertaining and know just how to tiptoe the line of obscenity and comedy very well, leaving the audience laughing out loud. These two have the power to carry the transitions between acts its just a shame that much of it is short lived before an unwelcome musical number begins.
If you are in the market for theatre more X-rated than your usual production, this is an experience you should take the time to see. Sword swallowers, aerial artists and strongmen are just some of the acts you can look forward to in this fun and freaky circus act.
Circus of Horrors was reviewed at Victoria Hall on 26 January 2018 and is touring until April 2018. Visit the website for details.