REVIEW: Barnum – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

If you love a spectacle and value showmanship over substance, then you’ll adore this colourful Cameron Mackintosh revival of Mark Bramble, Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart’s Barnum.


Envisaged by writer Bramble as an impressionistic look at the life of P.T. Barnum, and told as a series of ‘snapshots’ culminating in the creation of what became known as “the greatest show on earth”, the legendary Barnum and Bailey circus, this is a slight story punctuated with a tender portrayal of Barnum’s loving but ‘opposites attract’ relationship with his wife Chairy.


The undisputed star of the show is the irresistibly charming national treasure that is Brian Conley. A showman from his head to his toes and a gifted worker of a crowd, it’s impossible not to fall head over heels for his charm from the get-go, his warmth has you wishing him well from the moment he first flashes that trademark grin to the final bows. What he lacks for vocally he more than makes up for in showmanship.


The supporting cast of circus/theatre performers are supremely talented too, and there are a couple of show-stealing scenes; in particular Mikey Jay-Heath’s tiny turn as General Tom Thumb.

As you would expect from a Mackintosh production, the set, lighting and costumes are of the highest order, it is obvious that there’s been a fine eye for detail here but there are points at which there is so much going on that its impossible to know where to look. There’s also a niggling feeling that the first rate design has had everything thrown at it to distract the audience from the fact that there’s really not much substance to the story despite the colourful historical evidence. It’s also easy to be dazzled by modern day P.T. Barnum, Cameron Mackintosh’s production, so much, that you forget that there are actually very few stand out tunes either. That said, “Come Follow the Band” and “Black and White”, stay hummable long after the curtain goes down.


Barnum the musical, much like the man himself said, “is all a load of humbug and film flam”, but it’s hugely entertaining humbug and film flam. If it’s an evening of colourful escapism your after with a highly gifted, hard-working cast and a charismatic lead, then this is the show for you.

Runs until Saturday 4 April 2015 then touring

This review was originally written for and published by The Public reviews at:

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