The Circus of Horrors is one of the most original shows in existence. Although other shows have circus performers (Cirque Du Soleil, etc), whilst others use freaks (Jim Rose Circus), and there are also an abundance of rock-and-roll shows and horror inspired performances, never have all these elements been combined into a single horror themed rock-and-roll circus freak show.

I first became aware of the Circus of Horrors in 1996 when, following its début at the Glastonbury Festival, the circus performed at the Stockton Riverside Festival. At the time the Circus of Horrors was still a literal circus performance, including circus tent, trapeze acts, and all the trappings that come with it, but with chainsaws and vampires. Even then, I realised that the Circus of Horrors was something special.

The Circus of Horrors returned a year later to the Stockton Riverside Festival. Despite this being a repeat performance, the Circus of Horrors astonishingly filled their seats once again. Some of the appeal that drew audiences back was the inclusion of new performers and the development of existing acts; but perhaps most significant is that the Circus of Horrors is an incredible piece of performing art.

In 1999, the Circus of Horrors took a much needed break from touring in order to dramatically revamp the show. Owner Doctor Haze dispensed with the circus format for a stage-based theatre show. Due to the change in format, the acts were also adapted to reflect this, as what was once possible in a circus tent was no longer viable on stage. Equally, what was once impossible in a circus tent was now practical in theatres. The result was the impressive Circus of Horrors ‘Evilution’ tour, which fans of the original show more than accepted.

Since then the Circus of Horrors has continually evolved into its current incarnation as the Aztec-themed ‘Day of the Dead’ tour. What has surprised many is its breach into popular culture, with appearances on the “Ant and Dec Show”, “Don't Try This At Home”, and quite possibly strangest of all “This Morning with Richard and Judy”.

The founder and ring-master of the Circus of Horrors is the eponymous Doctor Haze, who hails from a circus background. Haze has always adored rock and roll, and this is reflected in the music that accompanies the Circus of Horrors shows. Not only is Doctor Haze a skilled fire eater, but he is also a vocalist.

Shortly before the Circus of Horrors embarked upon their ‘Day of the Dead’ tour, I talked with Doctor Haze at Psycho Management (his London agency through which people can book acts from the Circus of Horrors) about his life and how the Circus of Horrors came about.


PB: Good morning Dr. Haze. Can you firstly tell me about yourself? Is it true that you come from a circus family?

Haze: Yes, it is. I was actually born in the circus, as my dad was a fire eater. He had met my mum in London, who wasn’t from the circus at all. So they got together, got married, and had me. Then within six months of being born, he ran away and left my mum and I in a caravan in Scotland. We stayed for the rest of the season with the circus and then I was brought up in Preston in Lancashire until I was eleven. My mum later tried to sue my dad for maintenance, and consequently as he had no money the judges in all their wisdom advised they should get back together. Once they did, we all moved back to the circus.

PB: What did you do in the circus when you were first there?

Haze: My dad landed us a job on a circus in Ireland as fire-eaters. This was shortly after we had met him again and I couldn't fire eat. My mum wouldn't even let me strike a match before then! So I was twelve when I learnt fire eating on a daily basis. After I quickly learnt to fire-eat, I also learnt a mind reading act. After that I learnt the Fakir act. You can't believe it now for a twelve year old kid, but I had a roped place around my neck and four guys would try to strangle me... Child Protection Services might have something to say about that now.

PB: How long did you stay in the circus in that capacity?

Haze: My dad was basically a wanderer and he stayed with us for only another two years before he left again. By that time I had sawdust in my veins, and had made a career in circus. I probably stayed with the circus for nine years. When I turned twenty I decided to leave and have a bash at rock and roll, so I joined a band (called the X-Factor). We did alright, although nothing spectacular, but in a sense that was the next progression towards the Circus of Horrors.

PB: That leads me nicely into my next question. Do you think that is one of the reasons for the Circus of Horrors' popularity is that it is one of the few shows that combines live music with performing arts?

Haze: There are certainly other shows that combine music and circus acts, but I feel the way we do the Circus of Horrors is the only show of its type. We combine rock music with daredevil circus acts and bizarre acts. A lot of people think when they first read the name “The Circus of Horrors” that it is going to be another Jim Rose type show with all the freaks, but while it does have that, it is only one element of it. We actually have twenty eight people in the show, and have acts that would fit straight in to the Cirque du Soleil, with their beautiful acts. The Circus of Horrors is a complete mixture of things which is all done with a forked tongue firmly in each cheek.

PB: Did you have to learn new skills for the Circus?

Haze: I still fire-eat to this day, but I brought a lot of illusionism to add to the Circus of Horrors.

PB: What was the inspiration for the Circus of Horrors? It seems to be an amalgamation of your circus background and your rock and roll band.

Haze: It was a bit of that and people like Alice Cooper were partly to blame I guess. My biggest inspiration, in music, and probably in life, was Marc Bolan of T-Rex. I was a huge T-Rex fan, and still am to this day. Not just his music, but his whole attitude to life. Marc Bolan only worked two days in a normal job as he never wanted to be anything but a rock star. What's more, Marc Bolan did it, having his first record released when he was sixteen and he just persevered and kept going until he made it. The only problem was when Marc did make it, and the hits started to dry up a bit, he couldn't handle that, and he turned to drugs and alcohol. He was just getting back round again when he died unfortunately. Marc's whole attitude to life, of being so focused on achieving what you wanted, really inspired me.

I've also been a big fan of horror movies anyway, whether they are ‘Hammer House’ or ‘The Exorcist’. I've always been a big fan of those, so the film elements were also quite an easy transition. There was a film in the sixties called ‘Circus of Horrors’ (1960). Whilst the plot is quite different to the show, the name implies lots of different images that fit with our show. So my influences come from lots of different sources. There's even football referenced in the Circus of Horrors! (Laughs)

PB: Given the unique nature of the circus, how did you recruit the team?

Haze: Quite easily actually, as a lot of performers come to us as we go on tour a lot. An example is Danny Stretch (who is not in this current production). When his wife read the Circus of Horrors was playing the Roundhouse in London, she contacted us saying “my husband has got stretchy skin”. I had heard of people like this, but had never seen them. So I invited him to come along and there he was with skin that stretches six to eight inches from his body and goes straight back again. A lot of people come from around the world, as they write to me to say that “I am really keen to join the Circus of Horrors”, so we invite them to come along and if they are good enough we give them a job. We are probably the most equal opportunities employer there is!

PB: Did you ever anticipate the success the Circus has achieved?

Haze: I actually did believe in it I am a firm believer that if you genuinely like something, like T-Rex for example, or football, then others will. I am a Preston North End fan and I am not the only Preston North End fan. There are certainly not millions of us but there are thousands and there are thousands of million of people that like football, so I am not unique in liking that. Same as Marc Bolan, as I love T-Rex, and there are there are thousands of people that like them too. So I came to the conclusion that if I liked this mad rock and roll circus enough, then there must be loads of other people that like it too. So it never really surprised me too much when people started coming. I suppose what is great is that they continue to come, especially now with the way things are. Many circuses are saying business is down this year, but the Circus of Horrors is still going strong and doing spectacularly well. People are turning out in big numbers to see the Circus of Horrors, and that to me is what’s surprising. That it has been going for fifteen years and is as strong as it ever has been, if not stronger.

PB: Whenever I have seen the Circus of Horrors, there is always freshness to it. Where do you find the ideas for routines?

Haze: Well I do change them all. The show for the past couple of years has been the ‘Asylum’. But going back to the previous question you asked of where we recruit our people from, came up with this idea that I would answer that question.

In ‘Asylum ‘I buy what I thought was a stately home somewhere in the south of France, which turns out to be a sanatorium and all the inmates would become my performers, and the second half of that show is ‘Bloodthirsty Burlesque’, where all these inmates became the performers. Of course what they did at the end was to all turn and kill me, but being undead I survive. The new show starts in the Asylum where they kill me. So I show my evil side and they kill me, but the inhabitants of the asylum are filled with remorse and take me to Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebrations to bring me back to life. They successfully do so, but at the same time bring back a load of Aztec warriors and lots of nasty zombies. The new show revolves around the genuine ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration that they still have in Mexico to this day.

PB: I liked the humour that proliferates the Circus of Horrors. Is it an intentional or a subconscious choice?

Haze: No, it is definitely intentional. We have to put warnings on our posters, but I don’t like there being warnings. We live in a far too PC world in my opinion. When we put warnings on publicity material, we try to do them in a funny way. There is a genuine reason for the warnings being there, as the show is not meant for children, but it is also not suitable for sissies or chavs. Although in actual fact chavs would probably love it. Besides which, no one really calls themselves a chav, so we can’t lose with that.

PB: Several years ago you changed format from a circus to a performance, what was the thinking behind that?

Haze: Basically, the cost of running in a tent was so high. When you saw us in the Stockton Riverside Festival, we had eighteen articulated lorries that drove us around the country, and there is a hell of a cost with that.

The great thing about using theatres is that they are always in a good location, in the centre of town. For example, when we play the City Hall in Sheffield, we are slap bang in the middle of the city and you can’t find a circus site in as good a location as that. The other issue was the cost: we can do just as big a show and all we need is one big articulated lorry now. So we no longer need eighteen lorries to carry around with us a tent, seats, box office, toilets, security fencing and caravans for people to live in.

PB: At what point do you think the Circus broke into the mainstream?

Haze: I think our main breakthrough was when we appeared on ‘Don’t Try This at Home’. The presenter was a lady who is very well known now but was not so well known then, called Davina McCall. It was ten years ago since we appeared on ‘Don’t Try This at Home’ and it ran for three years. Each season we had acts on every other episode and in the last season we had acts on every single show. I was also asked to be a guest presenter at one point.

I think what happened was when we suddenly started putting stuff on television. We were receiving eighteen million viewers, which was as much as Ant and Dec had in those days. Suddenly TV executives realised that what we were doing was actually alright.

When we did the Ant and Dec thing, we wanted it to be quite edgy, but we had to be very careful as it is very genuine that show. The series was a live show and they really have no idea what is behind that curtain, so when we appeared it was a hell of a shock to their system.That episode was so successful, it was shown in the UK, repeated again in the UK, and then put on their video.They also wanted to do an Ant and Dec show in America, and the sequence Fox TV chose to use was the Circus of Horrors segment. So doing that and the Royal Command Performance with Robbie Williams, people began to realise that this was alright for the main-stream.

Now we can go on ‘This Morning with Richard and Judy’ and ‘Jerry Springer’,, but you just have to be careful and don’t swear like the Sex Pistols. If you do that you’ll get loads of publicity once, but you’ll never get on them again. Your safer bet is go out there and be as radical as you can, but without the swearing and the nudity.

PB: As I understand the Circus of Horrors has also broken several world records?

Haze: Well I’ve certainly got loads of them. There was the human mobile when we hung twenty one people from a structure. If you can imagine a mobile over a baby’s cot, then it was like that but with twenty odd people hanging three hundred feet in the air. It was horribly scary.

We broke the world’s custard pie record, which had been held for nearly fifty years by Laurel and Hardy, when we threw the most custard pies in teams of twenty at each other in under two minutes. That was a good one.Hannibal Helmerto, the guy who does the sword swallowing, put two meat hooks through his back and pulled a four ton truck a hundred metres down Edinburgh’s Princes Street. He has just been asked this week by Guinness if he would like to break this record in Italy for a TV show.

So between us, we’ve got loads and loads of them. I also did one with the most number of naked roller coaster riders in Thorpe Park. I wasn’t one of them, but I stood there watching! I enjoyed my job that day.

PB: Despite the show's popularity, certain Councils have banned the circus from performing.

Haze: Strangely they have, very rarely to a place we have already been. There are two or three throughout the country where it has happened. Basingstoke for one has banned the Circus of Horrors, but for a long time there were lots that wouldn’t have us although they have started changing their minds now. The councils can now see that we pull a crowd, but one that is different to what they would normally get and when they have us there they realise it is actually okay.

We performed in Durham last year, sold every ticket, had the show go down a storm, but they won’t rebook us as it is “too soon since the last time we were there”. Yet their council leader actually told one Circus of Horrors fan, who rang him up, that “there were aspects of the show they were not prepared to have back”, but he won’t tell me what it is. So obviously Durham is another one on the banned list now. If any of your readers want to get in touch with Durham Gala Theatre, please ask them why they won’t book the Circus of Horrors. I would really like to know!

PB: What do you foresee in the coming years for the Circus of Horrors?

Haze: This is our fifteenth anniversary this year, so we have started the year with a huge tour of 69 venues. Then in April, all being well, we are going to be in Russia for a few days for some shows in Moscow. This will be the first time British show has ever gone to Russia, so it is quite a unique thing. In many ways Russia is synonymous with circus, because of the Moscow State Circus, so to actually take an English circus over there is quite an honour.

We have also been offered to perform at a circus festival in Geneva and have been offered tours of Brazil and Peru, so hopefully it will be a busy year for us!

PB: Dr. Haze, thank you very much.









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