‘There’s a sucker born every minute’ and the same can be said for West End revivals. Some hit their mark, and some are perhaps better left to our memories. In terms of revivals, Barnum is a risky choice. Ultimately, the show lives or dies on the successful casting of the leading man, but also requires an abundance of extravagant circus stunts which set it apart from a typical musical.
Barnum is a semi-biographical production detailing the life of notorious showman, businessman and politician Phineas T. Barnum; known best for founding Barnum and Bailey Circus. From the likes of Joyce Heth, the alleged oldest woman in the world, to General Tom Thumb – Barnum was known for his charisma and unparalleled ability to ‘humbug’ his audiences with hoaxes and human curiosities.
It takes an exceptional performer to portray such an exuberant and larger than life man, and several such as Michael Crawford and Reg Livermore have done so in the past with charisma, magnetism and exceptional physical skill. Marcus Brigstocke is entertaining and endearing during his off-script interactions, however, in many ways, it appears he is still finding his feet – literally.
The joy of live theatre means no two shows will be the same and this is particularly relevant for stunts. That said, as much as audiences expect to see ‘the lift’ in Dirty Dancing or hear the high F in Wicked, a certain level of circus ability is expected of P. T. Barnum.
Laura Pitt-Pulford is exceptional as Barnum’s wife and is the stand-out within the production delivering heart, sincerity and a solid axis to which the spectacle of the show can be anchored. Vocally, her rendition of ‘colours of my life’ is outstanding and you certainly miss the stability she brings to the production when not on stage. Her chemistry with Brigstocke is palpable and the intensity of the emotion in these scenes make for engaging theatre.
The ensemble are unbelievable and the stunts simply jaw-dropping. The technical complexity of the tumbling and acrobatics executed within Paul Farnsworth’s elegant, yet aesthetically stimulating, circus-themed arena, are riveting.
The final scene of the production demonstrates why Brigstocke was cast in the role. In this moment his conviction is clearly visible, and his delivery is indisputably moving. As the underlying metaphor and truth of the piece are revealed, Brigstocke delivers a sincerity and vulnerability that rounds out the production, and the character, beautifully.
A tall order and no easy feat for cast or crew, when all is considered, Barnum is an exciting and heartfelt show. Perhaps not quite the full package that has been delivered in the past, yet few could deny that this is a stirring production brimming with larger than life stunts and some truly spectacular moments… and that’s no humbug!
Review by Cassandra Griffin
Barnum tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman on Earth, who combines razzle-dazzle with charm and brass to sell “humbug” to cheering crowds. A joyful and moving musical portrait of the nineteenth century’s greatest show-biz legend, Barnum is a colourful, dynamic spectacle full of circus, side-show legends, toe-tapping songs and immense heart.
Marcus Brigstocke, Danny Collins, Eamonn Cox, Tupele Dorgu, Rosie Fletcher, Harry Francis, Ainsley Hall Ricketts, Courtney Hows, Bethany Huckle, Kelsey Jamieson, Preston Jamieson, Philip Marriott, Dominic Owen, Meghane Poulet, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Celinde Schoenmaker, Lucie-Mae Sumner, Owen Winship.
Direction – Gordon Greenberg
Choreography – Rebecca Howell
Set & Costume Design – Paul Farnsworth
Circus Direction – Scott Maidment
Hair & Wig Design – Richard Mawbey
Magic Consultants – Chris Fisher & Chris Cox
Lighting Design – Philip Gladwell
Sound Design – Gregory Clarke
Orchestrations – Chris Walker
Musical Direction – Alex Parker
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Michael Stewart
Book by Mark Bramble
25th November – 3rd March 2018
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one interval.