Katharine Arnold by Alistair Veryard

You’re a firestarter, twisted firestarter

Or #dontgiveuponyourdreams

There’s a split-second while putting a flaming fire stick into your mouth where you can see the flames rising up as if they are about to lick your lips.

At that point the body’s natural question is “that looks hot, why do you want to put it inside me?” and it has to be a matter over mind manual override to ensure it goes in.

Fire eating at Aircraft Circus
Fire eating is something I’d wanted to do for a few years
Body burning: It's exactly what it says it is
Body burning: Circus is a fairly jargon free place so it’s exactly what it says it is

This was my situation in a cold training space a few years ago after I had spent a couple of years before that wondering if I had what it takes to be a fire eater.

At Aircraft Circus that afternoon I learned I was fine with putting fire in my mouth and doing some body burning (don’t try it at home kids) and it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I was a big fan of the applause (you don’t tend to get much in an office day job) and one of the proper people training to be a circus performer said I was good at fire.

So why didn’t I pack my trunk and run away to the circus?

Put simply, who is going to pay to watch someone in their (back in the day) mid-30s standing still while putting fire in their mouth?

People want a show – involving dancing as well as fire eating so my indie style of jumping up and down while shouting the lyrics to Rock n Roll Queen just wouldn’t work. It’s not health and safety gone mad, it’s just common sense.

It all started with Midnight Circus in 2014

The whole thing started six years ago this week when – a bit like a human version of a hamster – I was awake at an odd time of night (either 1am or 3am or 5) searching online for “circuses with fire” (one of my 100 resolutions for the year was to go to a circus).

Midnight Circus at Jacksons Lane came up in the search results and it looked like it featured a lot of fire so that’s where I went and it started off my love for everything Aircraft Circus is about.

(Apologies to anyone who has sat next to me at an Aircraft Circus show over the past six years as I’ve excitedly squealed ‘fire show, fire show’.)

It was also six years ago that I went to Black Cat Cabaret at the Underbelly Festival’s spiegeltent in London Wonderground (back then was it just called the Wonderground? I wonder) for the first time.

This too became a regular occurence in my summer schedule, enjoying the compering skills of Dusty Limits and then Laura Corcoran from Frisky & Mannish while being as close to a Parisian cabaret night as you can get while packed into a ‘big top’ on London’s Southbank.

What would Edgar Degas make of the Cabaret Rouge ballerinas?

Fitting with the French style, the Cabaret Rouge dancers were always a particular highlight for me, until 2018 when they had a break as the show was more circus than cabaret.

That year I was delighted to see Katherine Arnold was on the bill – having seen her do a cage routine at a Black Cat event in 2016, as part of the closing ceremony of Fiskfest.

As a supposedly drunk trapeze artist, she chatted to me before the performance as I was clutching a hoop someone had given me to hold. She jokingly asked if I was in the show and I think she was expecting a “no”, instead of the “I’m doing aerial hoop and fire” response she got.

I also don’t think the audience was prepared for her “being sick” at the side of the stage – my friend still wonders if it was real or all part of showbusiness!

Up in the air she wowed the crowd with a breathtaking and mesmerising display which – thinking back to it – gives me hope for the post-lockdown world. After shows in 2016 and 2018 maybe there is something in the even numbers. Could an autumn 2020 show be on the cards?

Katharine Arnold performing at Black Cat Cabaret's Bohemia
Katharine Arnold was mesmerising to watch at Black Cat Cabaret’s Bohemia. Picture by Alistair Veryard – www.alistairveryard.com
Katharine Arnold performing at Black Cat Cabaret's Bohemia
Black Cat Cabaret’s Bohemia is one of the only shows I’ve ever given a standing ovation. Picture by Alistair Veryard – www.alistairveryard.com
Katharine Arnold by Alistair Veryard
Zoom quizzes are fine for now but I dream of the day we can be entertained again by world class performers like Katharine Arnold – Picture by Alistair Veryard – www.alistairveryard.com

I can count on two fingers the number of times I’ve given a show a standing ovation (apart from when a friend is in it) and the Bohemia show in 2018 and Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic are it (although I stand – see what I did there – corrected if I also did it for Streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson).

Hopefully there will be shows starring Aircraft Circus (by the time you read this the amazing online Summer Scratch will have happened but there are always online courses so you can learn some skills), Black Cat Cabaret, Katharine Arnold, Dusty Limits and Cabaret Rouge again once the pandemic is over.

The fire show in Bohemia was pretty special

I know there are much bigger issues going on in the world at the moment but art and performance are vital because of what they give to people.

Art gives a voice to those who without it would have none. It’s a recording and interpretation of our time just as much as the stories on any newspaper website.

And it makes us smile and feel good, and we all need that right now.

Stay safe!