I’m taking a brief break from my story about my travels to Egypt to do something I have never before done!
There now follows a review of a musical I saw last night. After all my theatre visits in the past, why have I decided to review this one? Quite simply because I feel I have something to get off my chest about a production I had been looking forward to and felt a little let down by some professionals who perhaps weren’t, for me, professional enough! The theatre in question has a growing reputation for producing world-class musicals and has seen their recent productions of Singin’ in the Rain, Sweeney Todd and Kiss Me, Kate all gather five star reviews and transfer to the West End. From what I saw last night, that run of success will be over unless a make-over is given to certain areas of the production.
Barnum – Chichester Festival Theatre.
Firstly, the Festival Theatre is actually undergoing a major facelift and is therefore not in operation. The venue, then, for this production is a temporary structure erected in the adjacent park. And what a structure! It’s a combination of a big top, the Millennium Dome (or O2 Arena!) and the new Wembley Stadium. It is certainly, from the outside, a structure befitting a circus musical, however, once inside, it feels and looks very much like the Festival auditorium. Top marks to the CFT for their temporary house, well almost top marks. They need to make the cast aware that the structure is not as solid as a normal brick built building, and noise they make backstage can be heard through the ‘canvas’ walls.
When the cast exit (certainly stage right as that is where I was sitting) they need to do so a little lighter on their feet. The noise they made was particularly distracting and certainly marred my enjoyment of the evening. It may even have made me more aware of other annoyances, of which I am about to recall.
And so to the actual production. Starting with Christopher Fitzgerald who plays the title role. Barnum is a massive part to play, both mentally and physically and for the most part, Christopher ably fulfilled this demanding role. I say for the most part, there were a few stumbles over lines and he was unable to make the tight rope walk, but some of my criticism over his performance may well have been down to the director although as a professional, I feel he should have been more aware of his surroundings and played to all three sides of the theatre (after all, it was staged in the round and not as a proscenium). It wasn’t until over half way through the second act that he came over to stage right and played to the audience there.
This, actually, is probably the main reason I didn’t enjoy this production as much as I think I could have. It is a general note that not enough was played in the round. Many of the musical numbers were played to the audience ‘out front’ leaving those at the sides to get, well a side view. Many of the musical numbers ended with the company presenting a ‘picture’ to those ‘out front’. There were the occasional instances where the company made full use of the round and played to all sides, but sadly not enough.
Tamsin Carroll, who plays Barnum’s long suffering wife, was one principal who played to the entire theatre and gave a great performance. She even managed to juggle whilst standing in a quite precarious position!
The Ringmaster was a clever use of cast members – at least I think it was, but ‘he’ was never shown to those sitting stage right. It looked like a great idea; it looked like it could have been good to watch, but I will never truly know!
There was some very clever staging and the technical set worked well – one highlight being the arrival of the elephant, which actually received a round of applause!
The company provided some great acrobatics for the circus theme – contorting their bodies this way and that. Sometimes they formed part of the scenery, and I especially liked their involvement in the lead up to the Tom Thumb number – clever!
This is a good production, but it could so easily be a great production. Cameron Mackintosh, if you are reading this, please sort out the staging!