Schlock horror

It was billed as “filthy, frightening, funny, and unashamedly evil - the perfect evening’s entertainment”, so as you can imagine, I wasted no time getting on the phone and grabbing some tickets. The Circus of Horrors is being sold as an refreshingly unpleasant antidote to all the bland pre-packed off the shelf live irritainment that we’re being fed nowadays - it’s a “shag-that-wall” (better not to ask, I felt) show for the new generation.
Unfortunately for the thrill-seekers, it fails to live up to its own hype. I was expecting something just a little bit shocking - showers of blood, some genuine limb-hacking, a real twisted voodoo circus vision.( So I’m warped and depraved - I’m happy with that.) However, there is little here that would scare your average ten year old, which makes it perfect for a (preferably drunk) student audience - you can indulge your naff side and just give in to the overdone theatricality of it all - well, it beats Teletubbies, which are just so passé, anyway.

On arriving at the Roundhouse my initial impressions were good - you are greeted by members of the cast in full horror gear and ritually abused; you have to pass through Transylvanian passport control to get to the bar and are eventually seated at coffins. It’s wannabe Rocky Horror meets Blade Runner with a dodgy 80s soundtrack as well, but ultimately not quite as good as any of these things.

There is a vague wave toward a plot - the place is Sin City, a darkly chaotic, disintegrating metropolis, circa 2020. It is filled with slasher punks, vampy Goths, fur clad tribesmen and most other types you bump into at Kensington Market at the weekend. They are tenuously ruled by the crazed Dr. Haze, a truly awful creation who leaps around in lots of leather and sings terrible mock-Whitesnake songs.( Now that is frightening.) In between sucking the blood from little girls and conducting experiments involving gratuitous nudity, the freak inhabitants of the city perform an array of dazzling circus acts.

It is these displays of sheer skill that hold the piece together - after a while the Dr. Haze sequences become annoying time fillers. Particularly moments like a well-endowed vamp deciding to tap-dance her way across the stage, carelessly (oops!) losing her top along the way. I’m sure that many in the audience enjoyed it, but it was one of many displays of nudity that had no connection with an act or the storyline - they were just there for the FHM factor. Now I’m not a closet Victorian; I have nothing against gratuitous nudity, I think it’s a great thing, particularly if it’s David Duchovny. (OK, make that warped, depraved and shallow). But the only time that it actually worked was when an equally well endowed Quasimodo decided to show his wares, and that’s simply because pantless men are intrinsically funny.

It’s a fact of life.However, in the main, the Circus of Horrors is awe-inspiring, and reignited my faith in the sheer joy of physical theatrical performance. Despite its pretences to modernity, it is in fact a gloriously old fashioned piece, about genuine risk-taking, not virtual perfection.Any idiot with a disk drive can create technical virtuosity, that’s no fun. This is about someone soaring, twisting and turning at high speed thirty feet above your head with no net.It’s about teams of neon lit skeletons doing an air dance on the end of bungee ropes and vamps blowing fire while suspended by their hair. I’d forgotten just how amazing, in its truest sense, this is. No apologies for sounding circus-struck - it is breathtaking.For once in my life I couldn’t scoff at the use of camera trickery as I saw the impressively corseted (Scarlett would have flayed Rhett alive for a waist like that) Wasp Boy swallow a metre long sword and draw it back out, covered in spit; or down a long red fluorescent light to show his throat lit up - from the inside. This and other acts are the gems of the performance - strip away all the extraneous nonsense and you would have an impressive collection of talented performers breathing new life into an almost obsolete form of theatre. But if Dr Haze approaches you in the finale with a long knife, keep your neck covered. You have been warned.

At the Camden Roundhouse 0171 267 0007, tickets at HMV & Tower Records. Tuesday and Thursday is costume night - first 25 in free.Until 16 November.

Christina Patrick

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