by Laura Ferguson
Tollemache and Ladderman’s Seven Deadly Stunts is exactly as it sounds: seven sideshow acts that combine anticipation, vicarious fear and comedy. It delivers this in chainsaws, and no, that isn’t just an awkward substitution for spades.
Being a history and trivia nerd, this show immediately appealed to me by combining these stunts with their illustrious histories. We get to hear about the beginnings of these now infamous tricks. The tales of Buffalo Bill and Harry Houdini are mentioned as well as unknown historical performers, such as Aimo Leikas, whose Wikipedia pages I will devour when I get home. The lesson of the tricks’ rise in prominence is validated by the performing of the stunt, reiterating why these were so popular and have endured through to today. As informative as it is entertaining, I am a sucker for this show right from the start.
This timelapse consisting of antiquities most thrilling feats brings a brilliant structure to the show but I am most impressed by the showmanship and ease Tollemache and Ladderman exude while performing. Every one of these acts could easily be the showstopper. The one at the end that leaves us breathless and patting our brutally thumping hearts. We don’t just get one of these, oh no. Seven times over I am peeking from behind flushed fingers, gusting nervous breaths between my lips, whispering, “They’re insane. They are insane people,” to my partner who is annoyingly relaxed and chuckling at the puns.
The audience was pretty split in terms of these two reactions. There were definitely those just as squeamish as myself supplying “Ooh’s” and “Noooo’s” while the other half made of more solid constitutions laughing at the comedy and wondering with thoughtful eyes how the duo are pulling these tricks off.
Tonight’s sell-out crowd is enthusiastic and willing, and thank Virtus, god of bravery, as there is some audience participation involved. However, there is no forced terror presented and Ladderman and Tollemache make for fine hosts, even if Tollemache gets a little carried away with the innuendo. Although it adds a touch of the burlesque to tease her male volunteer, I wonder how comfortable I would have felt were the genders reversed in that situation. Bending over suggestively and asking the volunteer to crawl between her legs would have been icky if her husband had attempted it with a woman instead.
The moment is fleeting though and I am right back to enjoying the daredevilry. Whether it’s a modified Russian Roulette, escapology or fire manipulation, the wonders never cease. One stunt is even banned by The Magic Circle for being too dangerous, much to my gasping horror. I have never cheered so much for the survival of another person before and it comes unbidden, an inherent need to congratulate someone for not dying, maiming or otherwise harming themselves.
The love of Tollemache and Ladderman have for their work keeps this crowd smiling. Passion and conviction flood their words and I am touched as they explain that this show may seem dangerous but to them, it is a celebration of the sideshow, of circus, of the unknown and the hidden magics that live on today. The pair have successfully delivered these ideas to us tonight as we whoop and holler out our appreciation as they bow. These seven stunts may appear deadly, but woah did they give me life.
Seven Deadly Stunts, part of the Wellington Comedy Festival, is currently showing at Circa Theatre. Visit the Circa Theatre website for more information or to book tickets.