Waldo’s Circus of Magic & Terror

Location: MAST Southampton


Photograph: Paul Blakemore


By Tim Saunders

It’s just before the Second World War and Waldo’s circus of outcasts, acrobats and aerialists isn’t making any money. He needs a new act to draw the crowds and gets this when a chemist appears, who proves to be quite the performer.

Waldo has a hereditary disease that’s put him in a wheelchair. His son is fed up that he isn’t allowed to perform, his father fearful that he will also inherit the disease. They fall out and the son joins the Nazis. You don’t see that coming. It’s a sad demise that results in his father agreeing to perform for the brown shirts but at what cost? His collection of talented performers are not to the Nazis’ liking. Instructed by Waldo’s son, a sterilisation programme is launched, targeting the outcasts. It’s a plot that holds the attention throughout 2hrs 25mins and there’s some fabulous singing, dancing and performances, all-in-all making the audience feel like they are actually at the circus.

The clever set design sees the musicians performing at the top of the scaffolding above the stage and just below the big top.

For me, theatre is all about that element of surprise and this show has it in spades. From the performer holding a tall ladder in each hand, who climbs right to the top, to the trapeze that drops from above, to the tightrope walking and the disappearing act, this is a dazzling show. “How did they make that bottle vanish?” quizzes youngest daughter Heidi, mesmerised at the sleight of hand.

It’s a very thought provoking show because it doesn’t just deal with some of the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany but also tackles love and how it is fear that prevents some associations from forming, in this case between a ‘long-limbed git’ and a small woman.

This performance is considered to be 12+. In my mind such a rating does not include the f word but disappointingly I am wrong, hearing it at least four times. In my opinion this word, increasingly used to shock, really should be redundant, it doesn’t add anything.

Waldo’s Circus of Magic & Terror is at MAST, Southampton until May 6, 2023

Tickets from £10