Barnum (review). Anne Cox falls for the flim-flam of a great showman.

Roll up, roll up. Ladies and gentlemen prepared to be amazed. Be ready to be astounded, thrilled and delighted!

Thursday, 25th July 2013, 2:02 pm
Anna O'Byrne as Jenny Lind and Christopher Fitzgerald as PT Barnum. Image by Michael Le Poer Trench.
Anna O'Byrne as Jenny Lind and Christopher Fitzgerald as PT Barnum. Image by Michael Le Poer Trench.

A three-ringed circus about the greatest showman on earth has been revived thanks to modern day theatrical ringmaster Cameron Mackintosh.

Come follow the band. Barnum is open for business in the big top arena that is this year’s Theatre In The Park at Chichester.

See the ensemble flex their (considerable) muscles to tumble, juggle and perform aerial feats that will astonish you.

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Christopher Fitzgerald as PT Barnumn. Image by Michael Le Poer Trench.

Watch its star, American Christopher Fitzgerald, walk a perilous tightrope (without the aid of a safety net, folks!) to win the hearts of the flinty national theatre critics.

It’s been 32 years since Michael Crawford played the extraordinary showman, PT Barnum, in the West End, and it was about time this sensational piece of flim-flam was returned to the spotlight.

This is pretty much a one-man show despite the obvious talents of the all singing, all dancing, all acrobatic cast.

Barnum started out in Victorian times as a two-bit showman, humbugging the public with sideshows featuring the world’s oldest woman, a mermaid and a collection of freaks and oddities.

He was a “dreamer and a schemer” who wanted to bring a little colour to people’s lives - and he succeeded thanks to his level-headed, but rather dour wife, Chairy Barnum.

When one scheme failed he went on to the next. Yet his biggest triumph came after his wife’s death when he teamed up with a certain Mr Bailey to form Barnum & Bailey and present to the world the greatest show on earth.

The largely unknown Fitzgerald is sensational in the lead. Without wanting to date myself he’s got the same charm as Donald O’Connor and Danny Kaye rolled into one tiny, multi-talented package.

He exudes charisma enough to lead both the story and a show - and he can also walk a tightrope.

Tamsin Carroll, as Chairy, does her best but she doesn’t hold a candle to her effervescent husband.

This revised version doesn’t scrimp on spectacle and is obviously produced with one eye on the lucrative West End market.

Director Timothy Sheader sets a cracking pace and the excitement doesn’t ever falter. He is a bit of a master at smoke and mirrors himself. Obviously he can’t come up with the world’s smallest man - or the world’s largest elephant - the answer is a delightful compromise.

This is a crowd-pleasing musical that doesn’t disappoint. The big tune, Come Follow The Band, heralds the start of the second act and reflects the tone for a spectacular night of entertainment.

The whole production oozes charm and exuberance. Jack North has a moment to shine as the tap-dancing Tom Thumb as does the beautiful Anna O’Byrne as the Swedish Songbird Jenny Lind and Aretha Ayeh as the “ancient” Joice Heth (I sure hope I can move as well as her at her age!).

But this is really Fitzgerald’s show and he deserves all the plaudits that can be showered upon him. The standing ovations were well deserved.

Welcome back Barnum.

Running until August 31. For tickets/ info call 01243 781312 or visit