Circus Shop of Horrors (Second Star) 2018 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Kiriana Stanton, Phil Skala, Ryan Brown, Emma Donnelly by Chantal Ryanne in Circus Shop of Horrors

Paying homage to classic horror films, Second Star presents Circus Shop of Horrors at the Toronto Fringe Festival. This musical revue is a mash-up of genre tropes, acrobatics, dance and illusion.  

The framing device is thin yet functional: a woman lost on a deserted road, without cellphone service, happens upon a castle full of random icons from horror cinema. Once inside, she gets tossed from one gothic set-piece to another and encounters all manner of ghoulish, sexy characters. 

This is a medley of familiar horror scenes, spanning a wide range of eras and sub-genres — from Psycho to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a lot of fun seeing this company recreate and re-contextualize visuals from beloved genre films. Some famous musical scores are worked in as well. They certainly get a lot of milage out of Danny Elfman. 

The performers — Ryan Brown, Daniel Bowen, Emma Donnelly, Kiriana Stanton, Zel Tyrant and Melissa Yang — are, across the board, exceptional. This team is pulled from a wide variety of disciplines — aerial, burlesque, combat, drag and illusion. Adding to the breathtaking physical feats on display, there is a rich carnival atmosphere artfully rendered with fog, light and sound. 

In terms of technical achievement, this is one of the most ambitious Fringe shows I’ve ever seen. With such limited set-up and take-down time for Fringe productions, most shows utilize lightweight or extremely minimal scenery and props. But this piece has so much stuff! And it isn’t just a matter of getting it in and out of the building, there is rigging here for stunts that must be safe! So, my hat goes off to the company for the sheer audacity of this production.

As spectacular as the individual acts are, I didn’t much care for the connective tissue. The framing device is clearly meant to be superficial and silly, but I think it could have been achieved with a little more finesse. The dialogue during the interludes feels awkward and hackneyed.

From an audio-visual standpoint, Justine Cargo’s multi-disciplinary spectacle is elaborate and breathtaking. As director, choreographer, writer and sound designer—overseeing a large team of performers and designers and choreographers—she’s wearing a lot of hats for such a complex and integrated show. It’s pretty incredible that it holds together as well as it does.

Circus Shop of Horrors is, in many ways, very impressive.


  • Circus Shop of Horrors plays at the Annex Theatre. (736 Bathurst St.)
  • Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
  • Content Warning: Realistic violence or gore.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route which requires a staff escort. Check in at the box office at least 15 minutes prior to showtime.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.


  • Friday July 6th, 5:15 pm
  • Saturday July 7th, 11:00 pm
  • Monday July 9th, 5:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 10th, 2:15 pm
  • Wednesday July 11th, 7:00 pm
  • Thursday July 12th, 12:00 pm
  • Saturday July 14th, 9:15 pm

Photo of Kiriana Stanton, Phil Skala, Ryan Brown, Emma Donnelly by Chantal Ryanne