In the Belly of the Beast: The Itinerant British Showman and the Definition of ‘Seer Performance’

Tony Lidington


This article explores the potential for embodied performance practice to interrogate contemporary social relations in public space and time: this is particularly pertinent as the public realm becomes increasingly controlled and defined. It is my assertion that there is a mode of itinerant showman performance which uses historical tropes of popular entertainment in fabric, form and text, operating in unstratified public spaces, to deliver radical commentary upon contemporary socio-economic circumstances: this I have coined ‘Seer Performance’. The performativity of itinerant British showmen has evaded cultural analysis for centuries, but in this article I examine how this style of delivery can provide contemporary opportunities to challenge the hegemonic orthodoxy of the streets. Seer performance occupies a liminal space between heritage performance and contemporary practice and is demonstrated by my research into the historical practice of fairground sideshows, flea circuses and peepshows, combined with my autoethnographic performance. Seer performance is not a new form, but rather a new term through which to understand a performance function that has existed as long as there has been storytelling and showmanship.

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303