BARNUM

★★★★

Watermill Theatre

BARNUM at the Watermill Theatre

★★★★

“it’s the songs and the thrill of the circus big top that makes this production sing”

Cy Coleman’s Barnum is a big, big-top musical in the small Watermill Theatre proving that size doesn’t matter, as this is a big bold production. The skillset of the company of 18 actor-musician / circus performers is outstanding and between them must have played over 100 different musical instruments.

The tale of P.T. Barnum the nineteenth-century impresario who sells the American dream with his “humbug” to become the greatest showman – and like many after him, takes his sucker-deluding talents into politics.

Jonathan O’Boyle’s production is brilliantly conceived, even with Mark Bramble’s weak book as it flashes through Barnum’s colourful life – it’s the songs and the thrill of the circus big top that makes this production sing.

As the audience walk into the auditorium from the garden, where due to the inclement weather there had been a very brief pre-show; on stage we find just three acrobats warming up on their trapeze hoops. From the get-go the audience see beautiful shapes, spins and strength (circus director Amy Panter). With just the three performers the stage looked full and yet the next minute there were eighteen and it looked wonderful.

The pace of the choreography by Oti Mabuse is breath-taking, and the four key acrobatic dancers Emily Odunsi, André Rodrigues, Dan Holland and Kiera Brunton (who is a pocket rocket of talent) handle the space and the tightly performed routines with pure joy.

Matt Rawle in the titular role does everything right but it is hard to see any of the “attractions” that should make Barnum mesmeric. But the iconic scene when Barnum literally walks a tightrope towards his lover, he does with aplomb. This is a love triangle in soft-focus. Charity Barnum (Monique Young) invests more heart towards her errant husband, than might be written and sings with true love. Whilst Barnum’s lover, the opera star Jenny Lind he named the Swedish nightingale (Penny Ashmore), is sung beautifully in full soprano. The character has the best exit in the show as she is lifted and slowly spun on high – wearing a wonderful red creation with a very long train. Do watch out for Ashmore in the finale, as by then she is dancing on pointe, singing and playing the Irish harp!

In this production it is the amazing musical arrangements (Orchestrator and Musical Supervisor George Dyer) that win the day. The company literally manage to sing as they dance as they play the piccolo and in a breath swop to a double bass or run to play one of the two honkytonk pianos. Act Two starts with Tom Sowinski on solo Tuba as the number ‘Come Follow the Band’ grows into a rousing song with full company marching choreographed moves whilst playing a plethora of brass and percussion instruments. Followed fast on its heels with the song ‘Black and White’ as colour literally bursts back onto the stage, as Barnum brings colour back into his life. Josh Barnett is the onstage musical director doing a fantastic job whilst juggling many musical instruments and several key roles in the show.

The costumes are perfect throughout and the theatre’s small proscenium stage is turned into a believable red, white and blue circus big top, all designed by Lee Newby. With colourful lighting design by Jai Morjaria, bringing it all to life.

A fun night out and certainly another hit for the Watermill Theatre who clearly know how to put on a big show.

 


BARNUM at the Watermill Theatre

Reviewed on 9th July 2024

by Debbie Rich

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


 

 

More shows we’ve reviewed at this venue:

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING | ★★★★ | April 2024
THE LORD OF THE RINGS | ★★★★★ | August 2023
MANSFIELD PARK | ★★★★ | June 2023
RAPUNZEL | ★★★★ | November 2022
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND | ★★★★ | July 2022
SPIKE | ★★★★ | January 2022

BARNUM

BARNUM

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page