While watching Barnum at Wimbledon Theatre I couldn’t help but think that actors these days truly do have to be multitalented these days. Not only do they have to sing, dance and act, but whether it be playing the saxophone in Dreamboats and Petticoats, puppetry in Avenue Q or even roller-skating in Starlight Express, actors these days have to have an extra string to their bow. But where on earth the producers of Barnum found 15 thespians who could do acrobatics, juggle, lift their own weight with one hand or even blooming fly through the air in silks, I have no idea!
But that’s exactly what they did and by gum was it entertaining to watch. Following the meteoric success of the Victorian inventor of showbiz spin, P.T.Barnum, this show encapsulates everything that’s enjoyable about bright and brash entertainment. Barnum himself was the spin doctor who built his empire on ‘Humbug’ or smoke and mirrors and brought entertainment to the masses and it’s impossible to watch this show without being entertained. Although the plot itself lacks any real peril or drama, these performers certainly go above and beyond your usual chorus line.
As the central character Barnum, Brian Conley has found the role he was destined to play. I don’t mean that in an overtly sentimental way, but his natural charisma and showmanship make him a perfect match for the entertainment impresario. With a natural growl to his voice and razzle dazzle in his manner, Conley uses his wealth of experience to play off the crowd and give them a show (and his tightrope skills are ruddy impressive as well!). Matching Conely as Barnum’s rock and wife is Linzi Hatley who is endearing as she is talented. But the real wow factor in this show has to be the Ensemble who duck, dive and dance their way through two hours of circus skills and Andrew Wright’s astounding choreography.
And boy oh boy has no expense been spared when it comes to production values. Scott Pask’s scenic design is a beautiful homage to the touring vaudeville days of the Victorian era, while Paule Contstable’s lighting design mixes moody blues, passionate reds and the flash of light bulbs to engulf the stage in Barnum’s vision.
There’s no doubt about it, this is first rate production and I sincerely hope that a West End transfer is on the cards. You may not know any of the songs in Barnum, but if you’re looking for a show to truly have you gazing up in the stage in wonder then roll up, roll up… because the circus is in town!
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Barnum is playing at London’s New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 18th October 2014 and then on tour around the UK.