If you looked up the dictionary definition of a variety show, Johnny MacAulay’s
In short: it’s variety on speed.
For one hour the self-proclaimed international man of misery runs around the tent, does a dozen different characters, some of them funny, makes attempts at magic tricks with varying results, sings out of key Elvis, jumps around the stage in a monkey suit, makes countless sexual references, some of them funny, sticks needles into him and ends up naked on stage with his trunk out. Get the idea?
Johnny MacAulay’s career might give some insight into his manic performance. He started in the early 1990s as a clown at the legendary Cirque Archaos, the French troupe that revitalised sideshows. Later he joined the Mutoid Waste Company in Italy, where he ‘learned to blow stuff up and cut cars in half’ to make giant welded sculptures from waste materials. He then moved on to form a psychobilly rock band called Spamabilly Borghetti. This was just some of his projects in the 90s.
Oh, MacAulay is also a semi pro dancer in lindy hop and has experience in ballroom, tango, tap and ballet. Did I mention that he’s also an artist who does portraits, caricatures and pollution themed paintings? The problem with renaissance people like MacAulay is that their creative energy spurts in every direction, losing much of its focus. Johnny MacAulay could be a great all-round entertainer, but this time his act came across more like a random TikTok feed of short, disconnected threads.
As a sideshow performer Johnny MacAulay fails to impress a hardcore fan. He does all the usual numbers: rubbery items entering through his nose and exiting from his mouth, sword swallowing, walking barefooted on sharp blades and inserting needles through his tongue, arms and throat. His neatest trick was inserting sharp razor blades into his mouth and then connecting them in a string with his tongue. However, his sideshow numbers lacked the final touches the best artists, like Hannibal Hellmurto from the Circus of Horrors, have.
In the midst of all the magic and mayhem, my favourite act was good old shadow puppetry with Nosferatu as the ingenious puppet master. After all, it was Nosferatu’s shadowy claws that made silver screen history a hundred years ago. True to his chaotic style, the puppetry act was a weird medley of E.T., Skippy the kangaroo, Rocky and the film Ghost, to name but a few. The late Tuesday night was a tough spot. On a weekend, with a drunken crowd of hen and stag nights, the reception could have been much better.
Johnny MacAulay’s has got the charisma and skills to make this into a world-class performance. With a bit more finesse and focus the puns would land much better. Then again, like the crazy punk rocker he is, I bet he just wants to do it his way.