Sheffield City Hall has witnessed a plethora of prestigious performances over the years, from Yeats to Shakespeare, from the Czech National Symphony Orchestra to Alice Cooper. Yet none of the aforementioned have ever been like the Circus of Horrors which performed there in January. The only possible exception to this is the aforementioned Alice Cooper (who recently played at the City Hall), as ringmaster and founder Dr Haze admits that Alice was one of his inspirations. The Circus of Horrors is a horror themed Rock and Roll circus freak-show. Yet despite the horror theme, the Circus of Horrors is more akin to Carry on Coffin than Hammer Horror, as the Circus has its forked tongue firmly in its cheek.

The tone for the night is set when a PA announcement politely requested the audience to take their seats as the show would be commencing “in five blood soaked minutes” before ending with a loud belch. Meanwhile, a dust covered zombie usher was rampaging around the auditorium screaming “SIT DOWN!” at the crowd. Once the lights dim, we were greeted with an introduction to the Circus of Horrors by Daniel Endresz, where we were informed of the nearest safety exits at the front middle and rear, warned we may be sprayed with blood and other bodily fluids (this is not harmful unless ingested orally), and finally that this show may not be suitable for people of nervous disposition or Chavs (who were told, not too politely, where they could go, cheerfully accompanied by the appropriate hand gestures). The Circus of Horrors makes no excuses for itself, and gleefully revels in its anarchic exterior.

With this opening concluded, the Circus of Horrors began properly. I was pleased to see that a four-man acrobatic troupe remained with the Circus of Horrors, for despite their act not evolving as much as it could have, their gymnastics and human pyramids are amazing to behold. In particular, the “skeletons” routine by the Aztec Warriors (as the troupe is now known) is strikingly original, as the UV lighting emphasises the white bones of their matt black skeleton suits. The gorgeous Anaesthesia IV provided a suitably dramatic series of performances that included a tense blade-walking act. My favourite performance of the night was the “Vampire Transformation” that had Denis Remnev performing a stunning rope-act that exemplified the true capabilities of the human body.

Despite celebrating its fifteenth birthday this year, the Circus of Horrors is an ongoing success. One of the reasons for the Circus of Horrors' success is that it has refused to stagnate by continually evolving over time. Initially starting life as a literal circus, the show later transformed into a stage show, with the acts developing and expanding over time. This new incarnation of the Circus of Horrors, is billed as the ‘Day of the Dead’. Whilst the format essentially remains the same, the visual elements have undergone a dramatic change to suit the Aztec themes. New routines have also been included in this incarnation of the Circus, including an impressive performance by Denis on the German wheel. At the same time the Veslovski duo presented an incredibly skilled bull-whip routine, although their knife throwing act seemed bland compared to the rest of the show.

When I saw the Circus of Horrors in 2006, during their Asylum tour, I was impressed with the acts, but found its musical element not always working in conjunction with the acts as well as it could have. With this new incarnation of the Circus of Horrors, the musical aspect is much stronger, with Haze singing duets with the incredibly impressive Santa Muerte, and writing a series of new tracks to accompany their existing classics, such as the excellent ‘Destiny’. The band has also been renamed as the Interceptors, with the inclusion of the saxophonist Natalie Verhagen and guitarist Philip Walker, who possess the talent of being able to play their instruments upside down. Whilst this ability may seem a gimmick to compensate for a mediocre ability, they compliment the band well, and the overall result is a much more impressive music element that works in parallel with the shows visuals.

The plot remains a minor point and is mostly used to set the scene and justify the show's visuals, rather than to provide a structure to the sequence of acts. The only time the show's story seems to be referenced is at the beginning and end. Whilst I can understand the need for the story, this voice over narration is jarring in its disparity.

As you might imagine, humour proliferates the show, despite the horror themes, and it is true that those of a sensitive disposition may be offended. Toilet humour abounds, but it is never done gratuitously, nor do they attempt to intellectualise (although they do ad lib the occasional sarcastic comment on contemporary politics). El Capitano's routines epitomise their attitude mixing humour with circus routines, and leave you thinking “I cannot believe he just did that!” An example is his love affair with the vacuum cleaner – I will leave it to your imaginations to elaborate on what this means.

The show encountered a couple of minor technical issues throughout the night, mostly in relation to spot lights not following their targets. This was an excusable issue that could not be helped, with Haze ab-libbing that the lighting staff needed to visit the opticians.

Although all of my female friends thoroughly enjoyed the show, they did comment that some may criticise the Circus of Horrors for being sexist: many of the female acts were wearing thongs, whilst the males were wearing trousers. The exception to this was El Capitano, but he was not quite what my friends wanted! My friends are sufficiently confident in their sexuality to appreciate a nice female bottom, but they would have liked to see more of the male posteriors (Denis I suspect is one such candidate). In many ways, I can see the validity of this argument, yet I suspect the clothing style also was in part to do with functionality.

Another criticism by others, and I suspect this has been generally brought forward by those who have not seen the Circus of Horrors, is that it glorifies freak shows. This is one argument that I would disagree strongly with. Whilst it does use “freaks” (Hannibal Helmerto is a case in point) in the Circus of Horrors, it is never in an exploitative manner One of the most intriguing points of the night was when Doctor Haze was explaining the background to freakshows, and the reasons behind the body modifications that Hannibal had undergone.

Quite possibly the strangest criticism I have read, was how the Circus of Horrors “wasn't dark enough”. The only excuse I can imagine for this hypocrisy was they assumed the show was directly influenced by the film of the same name, as the show has never advertised itself as exploring dark themes: either that or the critics were fifteen-year-old spooky kids with an over-abundance of hormones and acne.

Despite the shows detractors, my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Circus of Horrors: Day of the Dead’ show, and emerged from Sheffield City Hall with huge smiles on our faces, genuinely inspired by their circus acts, thinking “I wish I could do that”. The Circus of Horrors was a unique show, populated with fantastic performers and awesome acrobatics, with great rock music and a horror theme that never took itself too seriously.












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Commenting On: City Hall, Sheffield, 24/1/2010 - Circus of Horrors








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