Chichester Festival Theatre in the Park
"Barnum’s the name, P T Barnum, and I want to tell you that tonight, on this stage, you are going to see - bar none - every sight, wonder and miracle that name stands for!"
Well, he was always the king of hype, and, while this new Barnum has lots of colour and circus action, there are holes at its heart that make it difficult to love.
The auditorium is certainly impressive – circus tent on the outside, a near-replica of the old auditorium within. Should be an ideal space for this show … But for me, there is none of the warmth and immediacy we've come to expect; a lot of the energy, and the decibels, seem to be lost in the lofty rafters.
The show, even after careful tweaking by Cameron Mackintosh and others, even with Chichester's track record and Director Timothy Sheader's expertise, fails to set the world alight. The numbers are snappy, though, the choreography often impressive: the stairs and the dressing table, the one brick at a time routine.
Barnum's story is full of incident, but short on drama. And Christopher Fitzgerald's pocket-sized PTB, strong on energy and circus skills, lacks the charisma, and sometimes the voice, to carry the role. His long-suffering, sensible wife Chairy is nicely done by Tamsin Carroll. A brilliant ensemble tumbles and abseils round and about the action, and there are very pleasing cameos [all genuine Barnum freaks] by Aretha Ayer as Joice Heth ["the oldest woman in the world"], Jack North as a very lithe General Tom Thumb, and Anna O'Byrne as the Swedish Nightingale. Her entrance on the swing, stunningly lit, is, like North's number with Jumbo, a definite highlight.
Every effort is made to get the show across the footlights – performers and brass players venture up into the audience – but while we might walk back across the park whistling Follow The Band, we don't feel that this was an exhibit that begged to be revived. I'm not expecting to see this follow Singing In The Rain and The Pajama Game into the West End …