Tag Archives: Fergus Rattigan



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 sousaphone 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



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page





Hen and Chickens Theatre

LAUTREC  at the Hen and Chickens Theatre



“Both Rattigan and Drisch look the part in detailed and timely costumes”


Comte Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was a French painter whose art gained significant notoriety through its colourful and lively depiction of the theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century. Producing over 737 canvases, 363 prints and posters and over 5,000 drawings in a career of less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec was a powerhouse of the post-Impressionist movement.

Shadowmask Theatre’s new play Lautrec – directed by Natalie Winter – explores the success of this incredible artist but also his tragic fate. Born to nobility, Toulouse-Lautrec – played by Fergus Rattigan – suffered from stunted growth, his legs never healing properly from injuries in his early teens. In his despair, the young man turned his attention to creative endeavours whilst also embracing a philosophy of complete hedonism which included drinking to excess and frequenting brothels. Marie Drisch joins Rattigan on stage to play an impressive eleven characters – from Lautrec’s mother to the co-founder of the Moulin Rouge – all of which hold a significant place in the artist’s rise and fall.

Rattigan is fantastic as the play’s tragic hero, initially bursting onto stage speaking impassioned French before adapting for his English audience. He mixes the two languages well throughout with his accent rarely slipping. Our lead brings a great comedy to the role – a particular highlight being his first rendezvous with a prostitute – but he really shines in Lautrec’s final scenes in a psychiatric hospital where he suffers from hallucinations due to syphilis.

Drisch is a fine partner to the troubled artist, but her multitude of roles often makes her feel stretched thin as she frequently must throw on a new hat or accessory to signify the entrance of a new character. Drisch is best when she is allowed to settle into a role such as in an extended scene as Lautrec’s friend Yvette Guilbert where they discuss the artist’s frustration at never being considered a sexual option due to his disability. The play packs a lot into its hour runtime, and it is Drisch who unfortunately suffers most.

The theatre space is successfully utilised – a sofa, a small table and chairs and various props including a sketch book, a bottle of wine and numerous concealed hip flasks. Some of Lautrec’s most famous paintings and sketches decorate the surrounding walls – they are revealed throughout the performance as we move through the artist’s life. This is highly effective and makes the play’s final scenes even more poignant. One suggestion would be to litter the stage with more debris such as empty bottles and dirty clothes as the painter’s life spirals downwards.

Sound and lighting is basic and rarely used to its full potential. There are a few sound effects – dogs barking off stage, the sound of drinks pouring – but they are utilised inconsistently, and the actors unfortunately do not react in good time to their deployment. Lighting could be used for exciting results such as to emulate the excitement of the cabaret stage but instead remains static throughout except for the final scenes where Lautrec is on his deathbed. This feels like a missed opportunity and could really enliven the hedonistic portions of the play.

Both Rattigan and Drisch look the part in detailed and timely costumes. Notably, Rattigan becomes more and more dishevelled throughout the performance, removing his signature bowler hat and smart jacket as he descends into madness.

Lautrec is greatly successful in spotlighting the work and life of the formidable Toulouse-Lautrec and its vignettes will have you googling the artist for some time. With some polish and refinement, this play will go far.


Reviewed on 15th August 2022

by Flora Doble




Latest reviews from the other Fringe – Edinburgh Festival Fringe:

Boorish Trumpson | ★★★ | August 2022
About Money | ★★★½ | August 2022
Fabulett 1933 | ★★★ | August 2022
Tropicana | ★★★★ | August 2022
No Place Like Home | ★★★★ | August 2022
Age Is A Feeling | ★★★★ | August 2022
My Son’s A Queer | ★★★★★ | August 2022
Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen | ★★★★ | August 2022
Grandmother’s Closet | ★★★ | August 2022
Brown Boys Swim | ★★★★ | August 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews