If asked to name the first thing to pop into your head when someone says “circus,” I expect a lot of people would instantly shout out “The Greatest Showman,” and for good reason. Leave your desire for historical accuracy on the bog-like field surrounding the cone-topped tent of wonder, and it’s almost impossible not to be taken in; enraptured by the musical’s lavish production, emotionally manipulative story, and catchy song and dance numbers. Even as a man who has shaped an entire career around being po-faced, certain scenes tug the heartstrings so well they could be used as a real-life Voight-Kampff test. But no. My mind doesn’t immediately leap, like a buoyant fawn, to The Greatest Showman. All I can think about is danger.
I see danger everywhere. I’m the parent in the playground who grabs a child mid-swing to avoid another being catapulted into the climbing frame; I’m the person left alone at a pedestrian crossing as I stubbornly wait for the green man; I genuinely believe lettuce is a dangerous thing to eat. Growing up in and around circuses did not play nicely with this mostly useless and less-than-brilliantly calibrated superpower. I can’t really explain how little I enjoyed sleeping underneath my wantaway-dad’s poisonous spider terrarium or cleaning out his snakes. For the latter, imagine the finale of The Crystal Maze inside the dome, but with snakes instead of tickets and a life-long phobia as the grand prize.
Of course, it would have taken an immense level of skill to build a toe-tapping number for use in The Greatest Showman that, instead, centred on the kind of abominations more suited to a grimy 90 minutes of indulgent and brutal survival-porn. And this is where video games come in. Someone should make a game about the circus, but it should be a survival horror of sorts, not a twee, how many sticks of candyfloss do you want, what colour should the bear’s bowtie be, management sim. I get it, most people love the thrill of the circus, but just think about it for a moment.