Posted in Musicals, Theatre

Barnum: the greatest show on earth

Carousel at Aldeburgh carnival, Suffolk

“I’ve joined the circus like I wanted to, when I was a kid. Climbed aboard before it moved on and you bet your life I’m glad I did.”

Before I start, I must confess that I haven’t actually joined the circus – that particular career path still remains to be explored. But I did manage to tick a long-standing item off my bucket list.

I’ve been desperate to see the musical Barnum ever since the early 1980s, when it played in London’s West End with Michael Crawford as the eponymous showman. I even still own the original cast recording on vinyl – the grooves almost worn away with overuse – as well as a video of the production that was filmed by the BBC in 1986.

Imagine my joy, then, when I heard that Barnum was set to tour the UK. No messing around. Out came the credit card and soon two lovely tickets had landed on our doormat.

That was back in September and I’d been bubbling with barely contained excitement ever since. Then last Saturday, the mister and I travelled over to Edinburgh, settled into our frankly marvellous seats in the third row of the stalls at the Playhouse theatre, and I finally (finally!) got to see the show.

Now, if you’ve wanted something for a really long time, there’s always the danger that you’ll end up disappointed when you eventually get it. Not so with Barnum. It was everything I had hoped for and more. I won’t give too much away in case you want to go and see it for yourself but suffice to say that Barnum was a funny, poignant, exhilarating and exuberant rollercoaster of a show. And with one genuinely heart-stopping moment too…

A legendary peddlar of humbug and flim flam, Phineas T Barnum was played with great aplomb by Brian Conley, who has form for larger than life characters, having previously taken on the roles of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray and Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Conley was completely in his element as PT and had the audience in the palm of his hand in no time flat. Linzi Hateley gave a suitably measured performance as his long-suffering but feisty wife Chairy. The pair of them clearly had great chemistry and the moments they spent together on stage were really rather magical, from the boisterous I Like Your Style to the sad undertones of The Colors of My Life.

The other cast members were also excellent, what with the singing and dancing and circus tricks and acrobatics. But a special mention has to go to Kimberly Blake (as ‘Swedish Nightingale’ Jenny Lind), who delivered the operatic number Love Makes Such Fools of Us All at full tilt while suspended high above the stage on a trapeze.

Barnum is a proper spectacle, thanks in part to the guiding hand of renowned impresario Cameron Mackintosh. Catchy melodies by Cy Coleman, paired with Michael Stewart’s smart lyrics, mean there isn’t a bad song in the entire show. A week on and we’re still randomly singing phrases from the rousing crowd-pleaser Come Follow the Band.

So, was Barnum worth the wait? Of course it was! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’ll probably be getting the credit card out again when the tour comes to Glasgow next year.

Barnum really is the greatest show on earth.




Prone to magpie tendencies, I enjoy nothing more than musing – in pictures and in words – on a few of my favourite things.

what do you think?

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