May 30, 1994



Jim Rose Circus Sideshow

Old Lion

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

O Rose, thou art sick. Blake didn’t know the half of it. From Seattle, Washington, grunge mecca of the New World, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow returned to Sunday night Adelaide to bring worms visible and invisible from his garden of unearthly delights. Too big for Heaven this time, Jim packed us into the Old Lion for the gawp of our lives. Looking around we looked normal enough. People who eat fresh fruit with their own teeth, people with jobs, people entrusted to handle machinery and sign invoices.

But Jim knows better. Wired from the first nanosecond, he hits the crowd like a preacher on speed. This is a medicine show for the sick at heart, live tabloid. An ogle-fest, people. This is Oprah with goitres. Jim likes to take the offensive. You look like a jaded fuck, he shrieks into his hand mike, leering into the face of a paying customer in row three. Check out this spoon, he demands. When the punter gets over-forensic, Jim is volcanic with sarcasm. Don’t patronise me, he sneers. Retrieving the cutlery in question, he spears it so far into his nasal cavity you expect it to reappear through his fontanelle.

Jim knows how to pace things. Forget the spoon. Where’s Bam Bam the Strong Man ? A chubby fellow in owlish glasses Bam Bam puts his hand in a racoon trap and then does the old Mat the Tube trick of inflating a hot water bottle like a balloon. It reaches the size of a tyrannosaurus pancreas then shreds all over the groundlings. Bebe, Queen of the Circus follows, reminding us that Jim is an EO employer and that it’s a cinch to walk barefooted on a ladder of blades. Jim croons to her with his carny spiel, promising her that should she expire on the knives he will `exhibit, I mean raise’ (he corrects his swinish lapse) her child as if it were his own. Bebe wraps some neon around her person, sticks a fluoro in her mouth and, with a little sizzling voltage, lights up for an encore.

Jim grabs Sonia from the crowd to smash up some bottles with a hammer. Audience participation time and who will refuse the MC ? Get your ass in the glass we shriek with the cheery unison of a lynch mob. I do it for you croons Jim, phantom of the opera, Barnum ghoul, the human dart board. Then to finish off Act One things get a further lift, you might say.

Last year’s pilgrims, or anyone watching that dolt Vizard,  already know what’s imminent when out comes the obsequious Lifto, masochist and piercee. Warming up with the superglue-on-the-fingertips- ripped-off-the-bowling-ball trick, Mr Lifto does his other familiars. The coathanger through the septum, the hook through the tongue, the nipple-lift with the concrete block, the irons from the earlobes while Jim sashays him across the stage. Lifto mugs and swoons like an ill-used lover, like a lanky Blanche Dubois.  Jim whiffles his moustache like a Southern Colonel with unspeakable proclivities. And speaking of the unspeakable. Lifto’s finale. The secret’s out again. The old pizzle push-up. Two steam irons hanging off the Prince Albert ring and Lifto rolls back his eyeballs. Abject, scarified, Lifto is inscribed with shame. His, ours. Everyone except the cheery huckster, Jim Rose- beastmaster and timekeeper. We have had thirty five minutes. A fifteen minute break and there are fifty five well-calculated minutes of gaping still to go.

Jim staples twenty dollars American to his forehead by way of getting Act Two underway. Then he unravels the Enigma, a tattooed Caliban who has been tormenting a stack of Korgs with mesmeric conviction since the show began. Enigma eats some lightbulbs and drools them down his chin. Jim explains Enigma’s supremacy over the gag reflex as the jig-sawed one swallows an intestinally improbable amount of sword. Jim treats him badly and Enigma squirms ever more parodically. He’s a creepy fellow Enigma. But then so is the Armenian Rubber Man. He squeezes his hypermobile shoulderblades through a stringless tennis racquet while Jim waxes pentecostal with hysteria. By contrast Mark the Knife is a fresh looking college type. He juggles knives, bowling balls and chainsaws and for the finale balanced a lawn mower in his mouth while Jim threw lettuces into the blades.

This year’s sideshow carried the same mania as Jim’s last visitation. Given to prophecy Jim reminded us that while five hundred appeared unto him last time the present crowd was more than double. Jim likes these millenarian touches- especially as a build up for his T shirt sales hype. If these T shirts do not treble in value in fifty years then your money will be cheerfully refunded. Jim should worry. He sweated and cursed, warbled and moaned. He explained, boasted and exulted. Science! he would shout positivistically. Do not try this at home, these people are professionals.

Personally, I missed Matt the Tube, the softly spoken pharmacist from Montana and things seemed quiet without the Torture King. But there you go. Enigma haemorrhaged his keyboards one last time, Barkey Ray’s Fender hit the death rattle and the Sideshow brought its revels to an end. On they trooped for the bow. These American gargoyles, harbingers of murky desire, travesties of appetite. May all your days be circus days, coos Jim, like we’ve just seen the Tin Man and Dorothy- and not the Elephant Man with a wrecking ball on his prepuce. It’s no good wiggling your shoes. There may be no place like home. But Jim’s made sure you’re never getting back to Kansas now.

The Adelaide Review, 1994.

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