Don’t go to Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow expecting cutting edge stunts or a genuine freak show. The former is not what the evening is about, while who would want to experience the latter anyway?
The point of the show, which appears at the Roundhouse as a part of CircusFest 2012, is to transport us back to the golden age of circus (the 1930s-50s) when people were perhaps just a little more easily amazed than today.
So it hardly matters that we can work out how many of the effects are achieved. Like all great conjuring acts, a basic trick lies at the core, but the majority of the skill lies in the execution. The evening therefore sees the audience ushered into a series of booths, where professors, scientists or charlatans build up the suspense with their patter before the marvel is finally revealed. If not every audience member will be sucked in by the occasion, they should at least be able to appreciate the dynamic being created. Without giving too much away, the Girl in the Goldfish Bowl has a certain aesthetic quality, there is something alluring about the flutter of the Butterfly Girl’s eyelids, if not her wings, while anyone who doesn’t experience just one occasion when their reaction is not entirely instinctive (we can say no more!) probably isn’t alive.
The two-hour running time is enough to get around most of the booths, and experience some of the acts in the Roundhouse’s central performance space. Not all of the latter are special, but the hula-hooping, trapeze artist and elegant aerial finale are among the highlights. Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow may be tame and naive, but that is both its point and its strength. It should prove suitable for anyone aged nine to ninety.
Until 29 April with start times of 14.30 and 19.30. Tickets (£20 adult, £60 family): 0844 482 8008 or from the Roundhouse website.
Photo: Popular performer Miss Behave presents Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow.