SEASIDE TOWNS IN winter have usually had their chips. When Blighty’s skies are greyer than those hairs your mum swears she doesn’t dye, no tourist fancies shivering on the pier or taking a dip in the icy ocean. Yet, during 13-22 February, Blackpool’s streets were alive with fire, steam and smoke… and not just from the burnt-down Yates’s pub. The 10-day Showzam festival of circus, magic and new variety attempted to make Blackpool rock despite it being off-season.
Star of the show was Marisa Carnesky’s Ghost Train, which was permanently moved to Blackpool last year after a long stint of touring. The ride combines mechanical mannequins with live actors, and Marisa hired young locals to play the poltergeist parts.
“I wanted to give visitors a chance to see a piece of avant garde theatre rarely seen outside capital cities, and give born-and-bred talent a go at participating in a different kind of production,” she says. “My cast are half girls, half trannies, and there are some real stars in the bunch, including cross-dressing wonder Mickey. Sadly, he broke his thumb falling off a trapeze during rehearsals.”
One spooky gender-bending spectre told us he thinks of singer Pink to get in a suitably snarly frame of mind before springing out to scare punters. “I have a personal vendetta against that skank,” he growled. “I think of Pink and my mood turns black!”
Housed in the Winter Gardens building, the ghost train tells the tale of daughters who disappear during a war, and is themed around missing persons and mislaid property. “There was a giant lady’s lost shoe on top of the ghost train’s roof, but it had to be sawn off because it kept setting off fire alarms on the ceiling,” shrugs Marisa.
Riders are driven around the track several times, as both the speed of the train and the sets surrounding it change. A melancholy maiden waltzes with flickering doves made of light; an evil conductor screeches as she’s sucked down into an apparently ravenous carpet; ghouls and gremlins leap out at passengers as they career along before a spectacular finale in which zombie travellers dance with skeletons.
The attention to tiny details is incredible: wristwatches, keys and Polaroids of long-lost children adorn the walls, and the sheets of bunk beds in a sleeper carriage are embroidered with the logo of the imaginary rail company, ‘NowHere’. This masterpiece really does make Blackpool and it’s tower cower.
Other Showzam highlights include an appearance by one of the world’s last female sword swallowers, comedienne Miss Behave, and ‘Loft’, a circus show performed by Les 7 Doights – a company with members who used to be in Cirque du Soleil. Tightrope walkers, tumblers, gymnasts, knife jugglers, slapstick acts, diabolo stuntsmen and acrobats all emerge onto the stage through the back of a fridge!
But sadly, many of the outdoor attractions are spoiled by Blackpool’s icebox weather, and many of the parades and exhibitions suffer from too much hype and poor organisation; they’re lame donkeys compared to the stunning ghost train and circus acts. But a huge regeneration scheme is about to begin in the area, and Bizarre looks forward to seeing a talented town get the proper investment it deserves.