The mysteries of a Victorian sideshow revealed

Victoria LeggettThink of a Victorian sideshow and what immediately springs to mind? For many, it will conjure up thoughts of extreme, often toe-curling acts, including a bearded lady, a two-headed cow and an array of pain-seeking performers hoping to shock and amaze.Victoria Leggett

Think of a Victorian sideshow and what immediately springs to mind?

For many, it will conjure up thoughts of extreme, often toe-curling acts, including a bearded lady, a two-headed cow and an array of pain-seeking performers hoping to shock and amaze.

Now a show which has rolled up in north Norfolk plans to take audiences back to what it believes are the true, family-friendly, roots of the Victoria sideshow - and there isn't a hammer and nails in sight.

Voltini Sideshows pitched up in Beeston Regis, near Sheringham, at the beginning of the month alongside Russells International Circus.

Performing twice a day, the show lasts just 10 minutes and acts as optional extra for the excited audience filing out of the circus ring full of tales of bungling clowns and death-defying trapeze artists.

Run by partners Sebastian Vittorini and Kirsty Ballingall, aka Professor Voltini and Madame Electra, it aims to return to the sideshows of the Victorian era which used to amaze audiences of all ages rather than rely on the toe-curling shock tactics of other acts.

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Miss Ballingall, who grew up on a circus, said the show resurrected a tradition not seen since the 1930s. She said: 'We are the only touring sideshow in Great Britain - there are a lot of freak shows but they are very extreme, it's not a family event. We have many small children come along who thoroughly enjoy the show.

'Freak shows are all about hammering nails through your head and eating glass - stuff you wouldn't want to take your children to see. That's why we went to the Victorian era. It's fun for all the family.'

But that does not mean the couple, from the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, have resorted to illusion in order to amaze their audience.

Sword swallower Mr Vittorini, who built the electric chair used in the show, said: 'A lot of people convince themselves it's all a trick, but I can guarantee this is 100pc genuine.'

As well as demonstrating amazing control over his gag-reflex, the performer also acts as 'electrocutioner' for his partner, who puts on an electrifying performance as the 'voluptuous lady of lightning'.

Miss Ballingall said: 'I take 27,000 volts through my body which allows me to light a rack of light bulbs.'

She first began perfecting her act more than seven years ago in the kitchen of her flat in London and, while she admits it was frightening at first, she now claims to hardly feel a thing.

She said: 'It's very warm on my feet - which is nice when it's cold - because I take the electricity through them. Generally I don't feel too much. Occasionally I get a little singed but, apart from that, we've had no major accidents. I completely trust Sebastian.'

Russells International Circus and Voltini Sideshows are on at Cookies Car Boot Site, Cromer Road, Beeston Regis, until April 19.

Tickets for the sideshow cost �2 in advance or �2.50 on the door. To book tickets for either the circus or sideshow call the box office on 07752 218805.