Review -Barnum

Barnum – Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics Michael Stewart, Book Mark Bramble – Co- op Juniors –  Wherstead Park till 1st July

Barnum in a real Big Top! Co – op Juniors have spared no expense to bring you the whole circus experience with this stunningly well performed and put together show that tells the story of arguably the greatest showman who ever lived and the pioneer of humbug and spin in his efforts to give the audience what they might have never known they wanted if it hadn’t been for him.

The recent phenomenon that is ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ has somewhat eclipsed this original production – but that’s a shame as this is much more essentially about Barnum’s showmanship and his relationship with his wife, and with only two main protagonists it gives the chorus plenty of ways to shine. And there’s some lovely songs including ‘The Colours of My Life’, ‘Bigger isn’t Better’, ‘Come Follow the Band’, and ‘Join The Circus’.

Peter Ling is brilliant as the central figure of Phineas Taylor Barnum – embodying the man’s public persona while still exploring the complex layers underneath. He is charismatic enough to take central stage but professional enough to allow everyone else to perform to their best.

Harriett Bacon is a perfect match as his wife Charity – bringing out her strong character while allowing us to see her vulnerability in loving a man that was never going to settle for the ordinary life she would have preferred.

Chris Evens is a fairly scary Ringmaster, Lucy Mellamphy makes the most of her part of the oldest women in the show, Joice Heath, Cara Dessaur has a perfectly lovely voice as Jenny Lind and Connor Nainthy is a suitably cute Tom Thumb.

But the chorus make the show – all dressed as various clowns they prance and juggle and roll and dance while singing their hearts out, and they all look like they are thoroughly enjoying themselves while performing in a well rehearsed, tight knit formation that didn’t put a foot wrong.

The orchestra up in the gods led by Jo King is superb and director Oliver Brett has certainly got the best out of his cast and used the space to its best effect. There are even puppets, and two real circus performers in aerial artists Kizzy and Tilly Packham.

The only down side was the tent got extremely hot and uncomfortable for the audience on Friday afternoon – and an unfortunate accident not long into the second half stopped the show temporarily while Harriett Bacon was attended to. The show was completed with understudy Courtney Yule who did a wonderful job filling in at short notice.

With popcorn and candyfloss on sale at half time and clowns to serve you – this was a fabulous experience. Well done to the cast and crew and all the production team at Co-Op Juniors for tackling such a difficult show with such professionalism.

A must see – but do take plenty of water to drink and maybe a fan!

Suzanne Hawkes

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