Man of a Thousand Farces

If you looked up the dictionary definition of a variety show, Johnny MacAulay’s Man of a Thousand Farces should be there. It’s crammed with magic, stand-up, sideshow, character sketches, shadow puppetry and outfit changes. In short: it’s variety on speed.

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.

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The Blurb

“Very dark, very funny clown”- Metro “What a great act.” Nina Conte “The hit of the night” Chortle.co.uk 'The Man of a 1000 Farces' is the touring show from that award-winning international man of misery, Johnny MacAulay. It is a one-hour psychedelic mind flip of magic, character sketches, puppetry, sideshow and quick-change mayhem. MacAulay started performing with 'Cirque Archaos' in 1990, and followed with 'La fura del Baus', 'Mutoid Waste' and has continued touring and gigging internationally, (USA, China, Singapore, Qatar, Europe, Morocco), eleven months of the year. "This was a stand-out show at the recent London Clown Festival. It's rare these days to see a clown show that draws on so much skill. Johnny MacAulay puts his street performing knowledge to good use in a tightly scripted piece of entertainment. Such a joy to suddenly find oneself watching and loving some old-fashioned shadow puppetry, which the audience was lured into by the clever set-up of a Nosferatu parody. It's just this kind of intelligent dramaturgy that sets this show apart from the trend in clown performance which often relies too much on chance. ★★★★★ (Jon Davison) (He hasn't studied with Gaulier.)

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