Showzam, Blackpool's annual celebration of circus, magic and variety
Roll up, roll up as Blackpool prepares to host the biggest circus festival in the country
When a de-frocked Church of England priest returned to his former job as an entertainer, there was only one town in Britain he wanted to head for. Harold Davidson, who had been found guilty on five charges of immorality, appeared on Blackpool Promenade, fasting in a barrel.
The show, however, was a victim of its own success. Davidson and his promoter were arrested and charged with causing an obstruction because the crowd which gathered to see him was so large. Undeterred, he returned in the following years with another show which saw him apparently roasting in an oven while a man dressed as Satan prodded him with a pitchfork.
Davidson died an appropriately dramatic death when he tripped over a lion’s tail during a show and was mauled.
But the legacy of his show, and many others like it, live on in Blackpool. This month’s Showzam, the town’s sixth annual celebration of circus, magic and variety, will feature 150 acts from all over the world.
The festival is organised by Marketing Blackpool and Professor Vanessa Toulmin, the Head of Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield and the founder and director of the National Fairground Archive.
She said: ‘There is nothing like Showzam anywhere in the world. There has been a massive resurgence in circus in recent years and there are other festivals, but what Blackpool has is heritage. Blackpool has the most amazing venues and performers want to be here because they can perform on the same stage as Frank Sinatra or Marlene Dietrich.
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‘Showzam is all about putting on shows that are sympathetic to Blackpool and the wonderful venues, like the Tower Ballroom and the Winter Gardens. Venues like that are the centre piece of the festival.’
The festival includes a number of high profile performers, street artists and never before seen acts, at venues around Blackpool and on the streets. The Winter Gardens will host Showzam Central in The Olympia, where visitors will be treated to a variety of free and paid for activities and events throughout the 10 day festival including a specially commissioned Youth Circus from world famous circus impresario Gerry Cottle.
Among the highlights of this year’s Showzam are three new specially-commissioned shows, Spook Show, Wondertours and The Invisible Circus, a contemporary theatre production by a young Bristol-based company.
Morecambe-born Vanessa said: ‘It is immersive circus, it happens all around you and it is incredible. Modern circus in this country is 25 years behind Europe, but this is absolutely contemporary. It’s circus, but not as we know it.
‘This is not just a job for me, it’s a passion. I don’t want what happened to my old home town to happen to Blackpool, and it won’t. More than 25,000 people came to Showzam last year, and they are people who wouldn’t have been there otherwise, and that number has grown each year.’
But this will be Professor Vanessa’s final festival. ‘Blackpool will always have a place in my heart and the Winter Gardens is the love of my life, but I work for the University of Sheffield and they want me back.’
Showzam takes place at venues around Blackpool from February 15-24th. For more information log on to www.showzam.co.uk.