Barnum Sheffield: Rave review of popular circus show at Lyceum Theatre
The show follows the career of P.T. Barnum, the so-called “Prince of Humbug”, and arguably one of the world’s most famous showmen. It spans the time between 1835 and 1890, and recounts a tale of love, loss, and a plentiful amount of musical numbers sprinkled in between. Whilst the play originally premiered in 1980, Barnum is a modern reminder of an old idea - chasing your dreams no matter the cost.
Matthew Walker captivates the audience from the first minute with his wit and charm. He portrays Barnum’s passion with ease, and sings with a natural confidence that is obvious in every musical number. He commands the stage with his vocal ability, topped off with a variety of circus tricks that show his dedication to the craft.
Walker’s vocals are rivalled only by those of his on-stage wife Charity, played by Gina Holmes. Holmes delivers a performance that is a pleasure to watch: her vocals are incredible, and it’s only when her character is missing from the end when the audience realises what an integral part of the show she was.
Holmes’ powerful presence on stage proves that the title of the show does not just refer to the character of P.T. Barnum, but rather the partnership between the husband and wife on stage, showcasing how her story is just as important as his.
Vocals cannot be discussed without mentioning the extraordinary voice of Joanne Shearsby, who plays the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind. Her singing is a breath of fresh air in a show that is jam-packed with lyrical quips and ensemble performances; the beauty of Shearsby’s moment is that it is just her, no chorus necessary.
Credit must be given to the choreography of the show. Between scenes, transitions are concealed by ensemble performances. Whilst props are shuffled around, acrobats are cartwheeling and leaping from one side of the stage to the other. It’s a refreshing distraction from any behind the scenes logistics that would otherwise ruin the immersion.
The stage is excellently crafted with a set that is full of colour and thoughtful props - a memorable favourite being General Tom Thumb’s chair. When the second half of the show becomes black and white, it becomes clear how integral colour was to seeing Barnum’s vision. The cast utilises every inch of the space to perform numbers that are captivating, pulling the audience right into the chaos of the circus.
The show is also a celebration of difference. The cast is a mix of performers both young and old, with each individual bringing their own spark to the show. Zach Rees does an incredible job of giving a big personality to a small character; his portrayal of Tom Thumb is a bright display of young talent and youthful energy.
Overall, the show is a beautiful blend of performances that tell the story of a man chasing the American dream. At its heart, it's a celebration of theatre in all forms, from dance and drama to acrobatics and opera, and a wholesome reminder of the power of imagination.
The show is a STOS Theatre Company.