FESTIVAL: Carnesky’s Showwomxn Sideshow Spectacular Marisa Carnesky

May 25, 2024

Carnesky’s Showwomxn Sideshow Spectacular

Marisa Carnesky

Elder Place

Brighton Festival 

Much Hyped and running for 14 performances¬† over this bank holiday weekend, this year‚Äôs immersive wander-round at will Brighton Festival offering takes over Elder Place to present Olivier award-winner Marisa Carnesky’s Showwomxn Sideshow Spectacula, a fully accessible flat route through a series of spaces with performances styled as side shows which celebrate the forgotten working-class women and nonbinary performers of circus and variety and explores their herstory’s.

The staging and decorations are vintage fairground with a modern aesthetic totally on point and hand painted by local queer muralist Dave Pop, the ethereal atmospheric electronic soundscape by The Fast Set waves it’s teasing audio over the spaces and original costumes by House of Flying Stitches offers up a fantastic array of superb outfits,¬† drawing attention to each performer in a cheeky, courturured way. There’s some serious fashion rocking here, including a superb purple demi-caped gold appliqu√©d¬†jumpsuit sported by Carnesky themselves.

Director  Carnesky has  looked at our voyersitic and patriarchal attitudes towards performers and particularly  the Women who have chosen to live life through full octain expression and feats of astonishing skill and re-views them through a decolonised, deconstructed contemporary, diverse feminist and queer lens,  with them having full agency.

What we get is a modern twist to some well loved and familiar traditional Circus and carny entertainments.¬† That’s all very well you may say, so far so Brighton,¬† but is it fun!! Yes it is.¬† This all moving, attention grabbing, spectacular physically transforms a forgotten side street into a large-scale immersive extravaganza, and leaves you grinning, gaping and seriously impressed with the extraordinary range of skills and talents on display,

Based on historical research by Carnesky, Showwomxn‚Äôs cast of over 33 women and non-binary performers explore hugly famous artists of their time and also look at the stories which made these people and their groundbreaking acts such a magnetic draw for our ancestors. We have recreations of ¬†1930s sword maestro Koringa, who also worked for the French resistance and 1880s aerialist Ms LaLa who hung from her teeth and was painted by Degas. Wandering around with the music, ohhh’s, ahhh’s and palpable excitement of the crowd on this sunny Saturday afternoon we gently glide around knife balancing body stunts, dangerous wrestlers, fire whippers, an aerialist with a hair raising act, a disturbing writhing contortionist, glass walkers, dancers, drag kings and other surreal performers.¬† We are reminded with the seagulls and tourists that the Seaside has often been a place to rediscover yourself, reinvent or runaway to find yourself, I enjoyed the diverse Brighton audiences wandering in and out of a curated space.

We enjoyed Carneskys’ welcome, explaining what to expect and what to see,¬† laughed out loud at the mischievous ancitis of the wrestling due, were seriously impressed by sharp sword full body balancing and entertained by surreal performances of Almod√≥var style mannequins, my personal highlight the Whip Woman and her impressive fire whips!

One of the sideshows shares the historical stories of performers, sharing how it must have felt to lived and performed in a travelling circus in the past and how the current diverse range of performers find exploring their arts in an apparently more inclusive world, but which still enforces barriers between performers, their arts and the rest of ‘us’. Carny has always been a space where diverse people can flourish and find a community, Showwomxn¬† offers us the shimmery vision of a community of empowered and powerful women and gender diverse peoples with the enthusiastic fun and edgy humor traditionally associated with these artforms.

This Showwomxn Sideshow Spectacular certainly makes us reflect on a host of preconceived cliches of historical circus and carnival life, and on a deeper level connects us with the thrilling freedom these performers must have found outside the normative bounds of the societies at the time. In between the fascination and thrills it asks us to look at our attitudes to female representation, our understanding of racism and colonialism and how we then engage with  carnival and circus performers and asks is it snobbery which stops us treating and vererating these lifelong trained artistes as we would opera singers or harpists. But as soon as we start to slip into serious reflection it drags up back with a jolt into pure spectacle, thrilling, chest throbbing, breath catching delight, where there is just the now, and the astonishing things we are watching with our fellow gawking punters.

It also shows us the cherishing, nurturing power of an affirming space where you’re not only fully seen and celebrated just for being you, but also your arts, talents and training are given a space to fully be explored, flourish and then performed, supplying a livelihood, and often financial freedom that come with it.

This is certainly a Sideshow Spectacular, leaving the crowds entertained and delighted.  My companion said she enjoyed the clever subtle representation of artistes and the aerialist was her highlight spinning under the bright blue sky to Yma Sumac, along with the opportunity to hear and learn more about the fascinating stories of these early Showwomxn pioneers. You can learn more here,

Showwomxn will run non-stop hour-long performances on the hour from 2pm on Saturday, and from 12pm on Sunday across the bank holiday weekend. It’s a good deal, with tickets @ ¬£7:50 for under 18’s.

For more details see the Brighton Festival website here: 

Purchase tickets in-person from our Ticket Office at the venue entrance from 1.30pm on Sat 25 May and 11.30am on Sun 26 May