The Royal Family of Strange People at the Southbank Centre
You can’t look but you can’t not look. It’s impossible not to react to the amazing things these people are doing right before you. Sword swallowing, fire eating, lifting up weights with parts of the body truly not designed to do so; this show is part burlesque, part freak show, part circus. The audience screams, gasps, and laughs – a lot.
In the tradition of a Coney Island freak show, each act is a highly skilled, highly dangerous performance of something you truly wonder at what gave them the idea. Just when does someone discover they can insert a fork in their face?
Bizarre and twisted, you don’t need to be alternative to thoroughly enjoy this slice of different. Definitely gruesome at times, the performers also bring a sense of otherliness. The women are at times especially mesmerising – the fire eater seems to have a special relationship with her chosen element. It’s a little bit dark, a little bit naughty, and a little bit sexy.
The line-up varies over the course of the season, and having seen it once, you may be tempted to go back and see the rest of the performers. There is a long tradition in freak shows that include those with special talents alongside those who undergo extreme body modifications – the tattooed lizard man with his split tongue, and those who just happen to be born that way. One such natural freak is Gary Stretch who has turned his condition of having the stretchiest skin in the world into an act. Part of the discomfort of watching the show is that usually we don’t point and stare at the different. The laughter comes through a mixture of nervous excitement that they will go too far, that they might drag you on stage to participate, and the dark cheesy humour. These people are self-professed freaks and defy pain in a way that will have you, at times, peeking through your fingers.
The retro set-up is part of the experience – a tiny stage in the middle of a mirrored wooden circus tent theatre, in the midst of a 1950s New York funfair. The atmosphere is thrilling and slightly seedy, with funfair rides, stalls, bars and side shows.
The Royal Family of Strange People is at the Spiegeltent, Southbank, until 29th September 2012, part of the Priceless London Wonderground Season. For further information or to book visit the Southbank website here.