Review Roundup: The Critics Weigh in on BARNUM at Menier Chocolate Factory

Review Roundup: The Critics Weigh in on BARNUM at Menier Chocolate Factory

Menier Chocolate Factory's major revival of Barnum opened last night, 5 December, and runs until 3 March 2018. Barnum tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman on Earth, who combines razzle-dazzle with charm and brass to sell "humbug" to cheering crowds.

What did the critics think? Check out the reviews below!


Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Paul Farnsworth's immersive, in-the-round set supplies some of those thrills, with red and white stripes suggesting the grand tent, a revolving circus ring and versatile vintage props. There are inventive touches in this smaller space, like suspended doll's houses to evoke different locations, and an entirely charming miniature train. Philip Gladwell lights it all brilliantly. More successful musically is Alex Parker's bright, brassy band. But without a strong lead lending emotional heft to those numbers, it's empty entertainment. A circus tent missing its ringmaster and star attraction.

Ann Treneman, The Times: Brigstocke, best known as a comedian and satirist, is also lacking in other basics. His singing is not up to the task but crucially, he simply never looks comfortable in the role. This is made all the more obvious because Laura Pitt-Pulford positively sparkles as his wife Charity. Others, such as Harry Francis, as Tom Thumb, seem to be born for the circus. The set, by Paul Farnsworth, is also really rather special. The stage is in the centre with vintage circus paraphernalia filling every corner. Even the tuba playing seems bigger and better. But you can't stage Barnum and not have the man himself smack dab in the middle, lighting up the place, selling us the moon, not to mention the mermaid.

Natasha Tripney, The Stage: It's easy to see why there's renewed interest in Barnum, master of truth manipulation - The Greatest Showman, a major film about his life, starring Hugh Jackman, is about to hit cinemas - but this is a thin affair, a puff of smoke, sadly lacking in magic.

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: In a role once gloriously inhabited by Michael Crawford, Brigstocke lacks the necessary charisma. He can be forgiven for wobbling when he walks along a tightrope, but he's not persuasive as either a dashing impresario or an irrepressible chancer, and he seems at ease only when interacting at close quarters with the audience. Gordon Greenberg's full-throttle production brings plenty of pizazz and a fine ten-piece orchestra to this bijou space. The supporting cast fizzes with energy, performing tricks and twirling hoops in an extravagantly acrobatic style that often looks as if it might spill beyond the theatre. The expressive Laura Pitt-Pulford stands out as Barnum's wife Chairy, candid and wise, and there's vivid work from Harry Francis, Dominic Owen and Celinde Schoenmaker.

Veronica Lee, The Arts Desk: Brigstocke is not a powerful singer but what he lacks in vocal skills he makes up with humour and ease in a role where he is on stage most of the time. The singing by the two women in Barnum's life is, however, superb, and Pitt-Pulford laces Chairy's long-suffering sweetness with some guile, while Schoenmaker plays the vampish diva - Barnum loses his head, and almost his marriage, over her - with aplomb. The ensemble are terrific, and their tumbling and gravity-defying body throws often take the breath away, while Rebecca Howell's choreography cleverly marries movement and their circus skills in what is a very energetic show.

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage: But the very best of this Barnum are the characters who have barely a line: the singers and dancers who fill the arena with constant, teeming life and close-up feats of acrobatic wonder. We have a fire-eater, girls who can stand on a man's head with the same ease as they fly across the ring with high-thrown turns full of trust, suppleness and courage, men who can shimmy up poles in the blink of an eye. Marshalled by circus expert Scott Maidment and choreographed by Rebecca Howell they are marvellous and astonishing to behold. The music direction by Alex Parker and the orchestra also sparkle. When the ensemble is in full, sweeping, vivid flow in numbers such as "Come Follow the Band" and "Join the Circus", the impact is irresistible. It is when Barnum is telling his story centre-stage that the energy flags. What a shame.


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