FOR Sunderland Empire, read Big Top. The Wearside venue – also home to gigs, stage musicals and, most recently, a panto – plays host next week to two very different circuses.
Presumably the management wanted to demonstrate the circus is a very broad church by booking The Circus of Horrors followed by The Moscow State Circus.
Both are dedicated to spectacular showmanship but anyone buying a ticket and mistakenly going on the wrong night could be in for serious culture shock.
The Circus of Horrors is a stroppy teenager, having been founded 17 years ago at Glastonbury Festival.
According to them, they “dragged circus screaming and shouting into the 21st Century and beyond”, which seems a bit presumptuous.
To the traditional circus repertoire of trapeze artistry, tight-rope walking, clowning and balancing on the back of a cantering horse on one leg, they added the swallowing of a neon tube.
Much of what The Circus of Horrors presents should very definitely not be tried at home, although the company did make the finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2011.
The latest show is called The Curse of the Devil Doll, apparently due to “a series of bizarre and near-fatal incidents” during the previous tour.
Dr Haze, who is credited with creating The Circus of Horrors, explains: “It all started when vehicles that carried the doll unexplainably started blowing up, but a week into the tour and things took a definite turn for the worse.
“The show was appearing in Bradford and during a sequence where the doll appeared to be brought to life with the aid of a tesla coil, sword swallower Hannibal Hellmurto swallowed a lit neon tube.
“Swallowing of a neon tube is regarded as the most dangerous of all sword swallowing stunts. It can shatter and send glass, mercury and electricity into your body.
“Thankfully none of these did happen, but a dry throat did cause the tube to rip a 20mm hole in his oesophagus.
“He was rushed to hospital and kept in intensive care for four weeks, then a further two weeks in a general ward.”
Quite how a devil doll puppet can be held responsible for Hannibal’s dry throat is not fully explained, but Dr Haze underlines its sinister powers.
You’d never get this kind of thing at the Moscow State Circus.
But what you will get from the Russian performers is Yana Alievia on a revolving chandelier, a “twisted contortionist” called Katia, a quick change duo called the Shmandrpvskoys and “the whirlwind Rubsovs troupe”.
The Circus of Horrors is at Sunderland Empire on Monday at 7.30pm and The Moscow State Circus on Wednesday at 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 3022 or www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland