Monday, 11 May 2009

MAYFEST: All the fun of the fair

A review of the tremendous Carny-ville courtesy of Suit Yourself Magazine.

Sinister magicians, bearded ladies, pox-infested nightwalkers, a cage fight between a seal and lion: it’s probably not your average Saturday night out in Broadmead. Existing in a dream-like realm between a party and a play, Carny-Ville was an old-fashioned circus-style romp masterminded by the overwhelmingly skilful Invisible Circus, a now Bristol-based collective of circus and street performers. Complete with Dickensian rogues, popcorn stall-lined dance floors and oozing faded gypsy glamour left, right and centre, Carny-Ville offered a night of devilish entertainment that encompassed a variety of circus treats from fire dancers to old-school fairground games. Over 200 volunteers came together to transform the former Police and Fire Station, now a collection of studio spaces known as The Island, into a giant den of debauchery for three nights only. Roll up, roll up… the circus of your nightmares has come to town!

In the vast outdoor area gypsy beats, dance troops and many a weird spectacle could be seen on stage, as the entertainment only paused for breathtaking sets from trapeze artists – who incidentally seemed to get more androgynous as the night went on – and death-defying tightrope walkers. The master of ceremony, a captivatingly belligerent bearded lady, teamed up with a drag queen DJ to keep the party alive and caused clouds of fire to spew from the twisted Victorian lampposts at moments of intense excitement. In the main theatre glitzy showgirls performed flamboyant cabaret and seductive hula tricks, whilst others gracefully entwined their athletic bodies in trapeze ribbons before swinging dramatically from seemingly perilous heights. Performers sinisterly mingled with the crowd, although many punters got into character so well it was often hard to distinguish your average ne’er-do-well from the actors.

Dotted around a warren of delight-filled rooms was an assortment of other wonders. Put your pennies in his slot and the human jukebox would issue you with a charming rendition of any tune from an extensive list, including his own covers if you asked nicely. Behind an unmarked door, noticeable only on account of incongruous sack of peanuts outside and the excess of shifty characters about, was the animal brothel.

After a tentative knock, you were led to meet a menagerie of creatures, including the feline king of the jungle, a vain peacock, hyperactive and mischievous ape, child-like seal and a bolshy pimp, who would ask punters in a indistinguishable eastern European accent whether they wanted to ‘spend time’ with some of his ‘pretties’. After propositioning your beast of choice, you arranged a price (mostly in monkey nuts) and then ventured into the caravan, yes caravan, to get your money’s worth. Inside portraits were penned, philosophy was discussed and no doubt many an animal lover was worked into a frenzy by some heaving petting, if you’ll excuse the pun.

For the spectacular finale, ghost-like maidens abseiled from the building’s heights as another seemingly peddled across the outdoor arena on an imaginary bicycle immediately above the audience’s heads. Meanwhile a mass of fire-dancers gyrated and performers cackled; captivated onlookers had no choice but to pinch themselves in disbelief. After the main acts were over, revellers danced late into the night, pausing to rest their weary bodies on a lush collection of sofas, beds and the odd coffin. In the taxi queue a charming gentleman fresh out of nearby Syndicate asked me where the hell we’d come from. I simply answered, ‘another world.’

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