Tag Archives: Tom Sowinski



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


Shakespeare’s R & J


Reading Rep Theatre

SHAKESPEARE’S R & J at the Reading Rep Theatre


Shakespeare's R&J

“Elijah Ferreira gives a stunning performance as Romeo.”

This intriguing show was written by American Director Joe Calarco in 1997. It translates Romeo and Juliet’s ‘star-crossed lovers’ into pupils who act out the play at a repressive Catholic boys boarding school. The idea of containing a play within a play was very much Shakespeare’s own. A cast of just four are all on stage together for almost the entire evening as we see Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ unfold through their adolescent eyes. Maybe ten percent of the text is new, including some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, latin drill – ‘amo, amas, amat’ and words from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Right at the start it’s established that Student 1 has feelings for Student 2 and it’s these two that take on the roles of Romeo and Juliet – in intense performances that don’t always get the approval of their fellows.

A note in the programme by Director and Company founder Paul Stacey underlines their commitment to giving voice to the under-represented including those that identify as LGBTQIA+. This powerful production does just that in a way that some may find poses a playful challenge to their expectations. And if a few traditionalists are offended by this re-purposing of such a familiar text, that is their loss.

Elijah Ferreira gives a stunning performance as Romeo. Every word is carefully weighed and delivered with exacting clarity and dedication to meaning. He uses gesture with almost telegraphic expressiveness. Brayden Emmanuel is physically much taller than Ferreira and as Student 2, his involving and energetic Juliet defies any expectation of camp girlishness.

“a lively and rich-textured show”

Luke Daniels is Mercutio, Friar Laurence and Lady Capulet. Expect theatrical fireworks from the start of the second half when Romeo learns of his banishment. Daniel also shines as Lady Capulet in the scene that follows, as well as giving his own take on Mercutio’s memorable ‘Queen Mab’ speech about dreams. Tom Sowinski has some great comic moments as the Nurse and then flips into the brawling Tybalt in the duel with Mercutio.

A clever and beautiful set by Anna Kelsey literally steams with the intensity of the drama and integrates some pleasing lighting (John Rainsforth) which adds great atmosphere to this intimate and involving studio piece. The costumes ring true whilst avoiding the colour coding of the houses of Montague and Capulet seen in some productions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

The play within the play employs some stylised devices to considerable effect. A shouting chorus of disapproval condemns the young lovers. Swords become ropes and cloth. Action is slowed. The boy actors (or is it the Shakespearean characters?) observe each other performing and we see their reactions to the story they are unfolding.

Jamie Lu’s sound design is strong on thunder and lightning and for those that know it, there are some touching ‘Heart Stopper’ moments as the two young lovers get together.

This is a lively and rich-textured show that was a delight to watch.


SHAKESPEARE’S R & J at the Reading Rep Theatre

Reviewed on 16th October 2023

by David Woodward

Photography by Harry Elletson





Previously reviewed at this venue:

Hedda Gabler | ★★★★★ | February 2023
Dorian | ★★★★ | October 2021

Shakespeare’s R & J

Shakespeare’s R & J

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