Society: STOS Theatre Company
Venue: Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield. 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield City Centre, Sheffield S1 1DA
Credits: Music by Cy Coleman. Lyrics by Michael Stewart. Book by Mark Bramble. Presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of Tams-Witmark LLC.
Author: Joanne Thornewell
Performance Date: 14/11/2023
Joanne Thornewell | 15 Nov 2023 15:42pm
Barnum has always been a popular musical, since Michael Crawford first created the role, then Torvill and Dean became world champions ice dancing to the music, and Hugh Jackman revitalised interest playing Barnum in The Greatest Showman. It’s a fabulous show with catchy music and a compelling story. But it’s a very difficult show to produce! The leading man is scarcely off stage and must be able to sing, dance, act, juggle, walk both on stilts and a tightrope and keep the audience engaged.
If he fails at any of this, the show fails with him.
Fortunately for STOS, they have an amazing P.T. Barnum in Matthew Walker. He completely commands the stage – his stage presence is palpable. He steps out of scenes to address the audience with ease and just as easily steps back in. There is never any confusion, the audience is completely with him. His singing, dancing and circus skills are all first class. His comic timing is perfect as he defends ‘the noble art of humbug’.
As Barnum’s wife, Charity, Gina Holmes is equally impressive. She does well to avoid being a straight-laced caricature, and her interaction with Walker is excellent. Given they are two very different personalities it could be a strain to believe they ever got married. This never happens in this production, their mutual affection is always believable and beautifully maintained throughout. Holmes’ diction and vocals are both clear and accomplished. She appears totally at ease on the stage.
To highlight the differences in their personalities, four brightly coloured clown characters are often on stage with Barnum, supporting his actions and representing his viewpoint. When Barnum sings The Colours of My Life, the clowns are fully interactive. When Charity sings her verse, they are gone. It’s a very clever device and the four actors (Lauren Turner, Louise Loftus, Ricky Allen and Vivien Siberry Scott) work well to create an almost supernatural presence. This is especially effective when the clowns transfer their support to Charity in her final scene.
The smaller principal roles are also very well realised. Carol Wibberley’s portrayal of ‘The World’s Oldest Woman’ is a delight and her rendition of Thank God I’m Old, dancing as an old woman would is very enjoyable. The Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, is played well by Joanne Shearsby and her soaring operatic singing voice is beautiful. As Tom Thumb, Zach Rees is simply amazing. His acting and singing are very good and his acrobatics are hugely impressive. I’m sure this young man has a very bright future. Steve Mather is a very engaging Ringmaster, announcing the plot developments as though he were introducing the next act in the circus and delivering the stereotypical ringmaster character perfectly.
This has to be one of the hardest working ensembles I’ve ever seen. They are visually splendid, the costumes are wonderful, and their singing, dancing and circus skills are excellent. I particularly enjoyed how every scene change is performed as if it is a circus act. The choreography designed by Claire Harriott is innovative, from stylised synchronicity, to ballet, tap, brick-throwing and acrobatics – all performed well by the ensemble. Special mention to young Amelia Walker who danced and performed her gymnastics beautifully.
I enjoyed seeing the band marching on to the stage for Come Follow The Band, it’s seldom that band members get that opportunity and this was a nice touch from director Jill Becket.
There were occasions, most notably during the Black and White section, where the music drowned out the soloists and dialogue, which was a shame because the scene is visually stunning – a total contrast to the rest of the show. On odd occasions, actors weren’t lit when they were speaking, this happened with the Ringmaster delivering his dialogue from one of the on stage boxes.
The finale, when Barnum reverts to type is a riot of colour – a dizzying display of song and dance. The audience was very appreciative.
On a final note, during the interval the couple sitting next to me noticed I was making notes and asked if this was a professional touring company. It certainly could have been.