Oct 29 2014 | By More

★★★★☆     True showmanship

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 28 Oct – 1 Nov 2014

Roll up, roll up! Cameron Mackintosh and Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Barnum, revised in 2013, illuminates the stage at the Edinburgh Playhouse every night until Sunday.

Barnum is the tale of Phineas Taylor Barnum – the Shakespeare of advertising – and his Greatest Show on Earth. The tale centres on a man following his dreams and the woman that stood behind him and made these dreams come true.

Linzi Hateley and Brian Conley. Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench

Linzi Hateley and Brian Conley. Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench

The show, written by Mark Bramble with music by CY Coleman and lyrics by Michael Stewart, gives insight into Barnum’s life as a showman and his life as a man, contrasting the serious and tender with the visionary excitement of his imagination. With more than just a flair for the theatrical, this is a glitzy, dynamic show that both amuses and delights.

Directed by Jean Pierre Van Der Spuy, this is an energetic and magical musical that creates a carnival atmosphere before the actors even take to the stage.

Performers line the aisles as the audience takes their seats; acrobats and jugglers regale with their tricks and misdirection. The theatre is lit to give the impression that it is inside the Big Top and circus music heralds the arrival of the show.

The next few hours are a celebratory spectacle full of music, dancing, acrobatic feats and Barnum’s trademark humbugs or celebrated hoaxes. Andrew Wright’s choreography is full of energy and control, delivered with both enthusiasm and grace. At times the movements in the ensemble numbers aren’t precisely synched, but that doesn’t detract from the dynamic and striking display.

exceptionally talented

Mackintosh’s revised production also successfully updates the show and modernises the circus feats, incorporating new Cirque du Soleil style movements in to the traditional routines. The cast are exceptionally talented in their execution – creating convincing characters while delivering and showcasing a wide range of additional skills. It’s captivating viewing that draws the audience into the theatre of the show.

Barnum company. Photo: Johan Persson

Barnum company. Photo: Johan Persson

Brian Conley embodies the essence of Barnum. A born entertainer, he has the audience eating out of his hand from the start. With his expert patter and ad-libbing with the audience, it’s hard to determine where Barnum ends and Conley begins. One thing for sure is though that he delivers true showmanship: entertaining, amusing and creating a feeling of heightened anticipation for the wonders in store.

Conley’s performance is by no means faultless – he makes small mistakes, his voice is raspy, his words in musical numbers are at times a little unintelligible – but he more than makes up for it with his expert and effortless charisma. He celebrates any blips, building them into his character and the show, which just adds to the cheeky charm of his performance.

The two leading ladies, Linzi Hateley as Barnum’s wife and Kimberly Blake as opera singer Jenny Lind, deliver accomplished performances with impressive vocal talents. There is an ease and a style to Hateley as the down-to-earth grounding influence that loves and nurtures Barnum’s vision despite being at odds with her own. While Blake is the haughty prima donna who usually gets what she wants.

Among the wonders of the show are Mikey Jay-Heath as a delightful and charismatic Tom Thumb, Landi Oshinowo as Joice Heth the oldest women in the world, and of course, who could forget the cameo from the largest elephant in the world!

Barnum is ultimately a fantastic upbeat joyful production. While it may not always be perfect, it is a genuinely funny, heart-warming and magical show that gives a glimpse of the miracle that was PT Barnum’s flair and imagination. A feel-good show that people of all ages can enjoy.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 28 October – Saturday 1 November 2014
Daily 7.30pm; Weds, Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website:
Tour website:Æ featured interview with Brian Conley: Barnum Storming.

Buy the music to Barnum on Amazon:

Barnum on tour 2014:
28 October – 1 November Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
4 – 15 November Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
18 – 22 November Aberdeen
His Majesty’s
01224 641122 Book online
25 – 29 November Bradford
01274 432 000 Book online
Tour continues in 2015:
20 – 24 January Woking
New Victoria
0844 871 7645 Book online
27 – 31 January Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
01902 429212 Book online
3 – 14 February Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
17 – 28 February Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
7 – 11 April Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
14 – 25 April Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
12 – 16 May Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
19 – 23 May Liverpool
08448 713 017 Book online
26 May – 6 June Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
9 – 20 June Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
23 June – 4 July Canterbury
The Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
7 July – 1 August Birmingham
0844 338 5000 Book online


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.