Sasha Regan’s quaint Union Theatre is a tiny venue with a big heart. It is an ambitious venture to stage a grand musical here but it seems strangely suited to Paul Tate’s production of Barnum, which is all boisterous ‘let’s put on a show’ razzmatazz.
On a stage decorated with clown faces, bunting and striped awnings, the large cast impresses with its verve and enthusiasm, belting out Michael Stewart’s lyrics, which are set to Cy Coleman’s music played live by MD Danny Whitby and Chris Payne.
Chris Coughlin captures PT Barnum’s bluster and showmanship well and Sarah-Jane Bourne as his first wife, Charity, displays a strong singing voice and some nicely understated acting. Angel Brereton as the Swedish Songbird, Jenny Lind, has a convincing accent and sweet soprano voice and Debbie Chapman struts her stuff as a burlesque singer. But, in his duet with Joanna Forest, a chance is missed to make Daniel Whitley appear as small as the famously diminutive Tom Thumb.
Susan Hale’s costumes are colourful and varied, with showgirls (Kirsty Holmes and Victoria Robertson), in frondy green glittering tutus and clowns in checked jackets, stripy socks and daisy-studded fright wigs.
Tate’s choreography is well executed, with many a pose struck for effect, but there is little here to suggest the wildly exotic nature of Barnum’s exhibits and a spot of juggling plus Charlotte Milchard’s rollerskating are as close as it gets to circus. The proximity to the actors sadly lessens the mystery, as does hearing them still rehearsing both before curtain up and during the interval.