THE SHOW MUST GO ON FOR EVER
Roger Lewis’ 4-star review of Circus Mania in the Mail on Sunday.
The public finally turned against performing animals in 1998, when Mary Chipperfield was convicted on 12 counts of cruelty against a chimp called Trudy. Animal rights charities have also been persistent, putting pressure on shops not to display posters advertising circuses and getting their fanatics to yell ‘child abuser!’ at parents who take their offspring to see a show.
- an illustration from
Nevertheless, I agree with him when he says there is no need to see elephants or horses do demeaning tricks, as it is a privilege simply to be able ‘to admire them in motion at such close quarters.’
For that is the appeal of the circus: there is no computer-generated trickery. The galloping palomino stallions are real. The acrobats feats of strength and balance on the trapeze are real. The risk of sudden death is real.
Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form. McPherson vividly describes the frisson of entering the big top, the pulsating music and ‘the strange light beneath the canvas.’ Part of the appeal, he says, is the combination of ‘low budgets and high spirits,’ a mixture of ‘the tacky and the amazing.’
|Gerry Cottle, author Douglas McPherson|
and Dr Haze from Circus of Horrors
at the launch party for
McPherson’s interviews with today’s circus artistes are particularly interesting. Circus families are tight knit and have been slaving away for centuries. ‘There are no sick notes in the circus,’ one performer told him. ‘You go on and do the same act with a smile on your face, even if you are in pain.’
Such stoicism and dedication are only to be admired, for it can be a pitiless existence, living in ‘rusty, showerless caravans,’ and taking down and re-erecting the Big Top at a new ground every week or so.
|Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson|
meets one of Britain's last
Not everyone is cut out for the circus ring, despite their best efforts. Saddest of all are the likes of Otis the Frog Boy and Captain Dan the Demon Dwarf, deprived of their livelihood by disability rights activists.
McPherson also tells of a duff fire-eater who set fire to his finger and chin at an audition for Gerry Cottle. He tried to put out the flames on his chin and his finger reignited. Eventually, Gerry had to run over and cover him with a blanket. ‘He turned up at the show three days later with his finger all bandaged up and wearing his McDonald’s uniform.’
Perhaps the success of Cirque du Soleil, which currently has 19 shows running worldwide, means that the circus will stage a comeback. Fifty years ago, the Queen used to go regularly to Bertram Mills and Billy Smart’s, and I’m glad to see that Norman Barrett, ringmaster and budgie trainer, was included in a recent honours list.