Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow is on at London’s Roundhouse, and currently touring. The show comprises an insect circus (giant bug-suited acrobats), trapeze artists, a hoop-girl, rope-walkers, Ringmistress Miss Behave, and best of all a set of vintage sideshow illusions dating back to the 1930s and saved from old funfairs that include The Headless Lady, The Girl In The Goldfish Bowl (‘She’s Only Five Inches Tall!’), Electra the 27000 Volt Girl, the Butterfly Girl, the Princess Turned Into A Mummy and the Half-Woman – the tragic victim of a bandsaw accident.
These are wonderful old carnival turns, a couple of which I vaguely remember seeing at the decrepit Margate Dreamland as a toddler. Especially confounding, and rather frightening, is the headless woman, seated on her Lambretta with red rubber tubes coming out of her neck, fed into the bottles containing her organs. The whole thing is reminiscent of Tobe Hopper’s wonderful horror film ‘The Funhouse’, and comes complete with cheeky carnival barkers, a bar and a penny arcade.
Conjuring up these old memories is one thing, but it’s a joy to see TV and videogame-sated kids looking dumbfounded by marvels they could almost reach out and touch. There could be more saucy banter between the showmen and their charges (as there is in the case of the bickering duo involved in the Half-Woman) but this is a fun show from a more innocent, yet strangely sinister, age. Here’s some older footage of the Headless Girl.