England

Freak show revival as attraction heads to West End

Circus of Horrors cast
Image caption Circus of Horrors performers are now heading for the West End

If someone mentions freak shows, you might think of Victorian-era circus attractions, widely regarded as dehumanising and politically incorrect.

What you may not realise is the sideshow genre, popular in the 19th Century, is enjoying a revival.

Dr Haze's Freak Show recently finished a run at the Great Dorset Steam Fair and its Circus of Horrors performers are now heading for London's West End.

So who are the stars in this troupe of unusual and remarkable humans?

Dr John Haze, who comes from a circus background, said: "Some of our performers are what we call 'born freaks' but many are turning something negative into something very positive. Others are born completely normal and turn themselves into freaks.

"People are entertained by people who look unusual. Anything that can shock us for a moment - whether it's their appearance or something they do - as long as it doesn't hurt anyone, then it's great."

However the performers are highly skilled individuals and their acts should not be replicated in any way.

Gary Stretch

Image caption Gary Turner has a rare genetic disorder, giving him stretchy skin

Gary Stretch has an extreme case of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects collagen in the body, causing stretchy skin.

His act includes pulling his chest skin over his face, making his features disappear, in a move called the Wise Monkey - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Dr Haze said: "When he discovered the condition as a child, he would charge other kids 50p to have a pull on his skin," he said.

But the condition also meant he had to give up football and later, his job on a building site.

"Any bang and he would bruise really easily," Dr Haze explained.

When asked whether it was right for Gary to cash-in on his condition, Dr Haze said: "What is he supposed to do? Live at home and never go out?

"He has found a way to use his condition to have a very good life.

"He is not well enough to do tours any more but he is still very much part of our group and does still do gigs with us."

Captain Dan

Image caption Don't try this at home: Captain Dan opens beer bottles with his eye socket

Captain Dan the Demon Dwarf's "magic" act includes eating live light bulbs and opening beer bottles with his eye socket.

Much of his routine, however, is adult-themed and in 2007 he hit the headlines after accidentally supergluing his penis to a vacuum cleaner during a performance.

The mishap occurred after he mended an attachment needed for his act but failed to leave enough time for the glue to dry.

Dan, who has been with the circus for a decade, lives on a narrow boat in Nottinghamshire with his dog.

If you think he looks familiar, you may have seen him in one of his many movies - he was an Ewok in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, appeared in Labyrinth with David Bowie and shared a kiss with Miss Piggy in Muppets Treasure Island.

When asked whether his character was an alter ego, Dr Haze said: "No, I think Captain Dan and Dan Blackner are the same person."

Wolf Boy

Image caption Wolfboy - played by Jesus Aceves - walks on swords during his act

Mexican-born Jesus "Chuy" Aceves, the human wolf boy, has hypertrichosis, which means his whole face is covered in thick, dark hair.

His original high-wire walking act was adapted for the Circus of Horrors where he walks on a ladder of swords.

He was the subject of a 2005 BBC documentary - It's Not Easy Being a Wolf Boy - when he shaved for the first time in the hope of getting a regular job closer to his family.

Dr Haze said: "There hadn't been a wolf boy in England for years so it was a big coup to bring him over.

"He is working away from home but, the good thing is, we tour for a short period so he is not away from his family for long.

"He lives in a poor part of Mexico and was doing carpentry and construction for a low wage.

"People probably take the mickey out of him more in that environment than in the Circus of Horrors - that's the big difference. When he goes on stage he is a superstar - at home he's not a superstar.

"He has tried to shave it off but his skin underneath is blue. He tried it out but didn't really like it. He said 'this is how God has made me'."

Earlier this year, Circus of Horrors was forced to advertise Jesus's job to UK applicants to comply with employment laws but no British people qualified and he was able to keep his job.

About 50 people in the world have the condition and half are in Jesus's family.

Hannibal Helmurto

Image caption Hannibal Helmurto spent two week in intensive care after his act went wrong

Sword swallower Hannibal Helmurto spent two weeks in intensive care after rupturing his oesophagus swallowing a neon light "sword".

Other aspects of his act include squirting liquid from his facial piercings and lifting a large plank of wood suspended from a hook through his nose.

He is one of just a handful of sword swallowers in the world.

When Dr Haze first met Hannibal, he had just quit his office job to work in a piercing parlour.

"He wore a normal suit and had no tattoos," Dr Haze recalled.

"Ten years later he turned up at the Hackney Empire and he had completely changed his body."

Apart from being covered in tattoos and piercings, he had a forked tongue and two "floating" ribs - deliberately broken to enable him to perform tricks.

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