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Co-op Juniors Barnum review: A barnstorming piece of theatrical showmanship

PUBLISHED: 13:00 29 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:27 01 July 2018

The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company stage Barnum in the big top at Wherstead Park Pictures: MIKE KWASNIAK

The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company stage Barnum in the big top at Wherstead Park Pictures: MIKE KWASNIAK

Mike Kwasniak Photography, 2018 - www.mikekwasniak.co.uk

I’d wager more than a few people considered joining the circus after a barnstorming first night and that’s no humbug.

The show is full of colour and clever invention Pictures: MIKE KWASNIAKThe show is full of colour and clever invention Pictures: MIKE KWASNIAK

Showman PT Barnum’s rise, fall and rise again is a sweeping story with larger than life characters. As such it needs to be told big and the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company rose to the challenge at Wherstead Park.

Director Oliver Brett has a lot to juggle, combining the excitement of the circus with the oft-delicateness of theatre. The result is an infectiously fun, charming and poignant piece that ranks among the Juniors’ best work I’ve seen.

Staging it in Circus Fantasia’s big top obviously helps. You’re swept up in the hubbub of the crowd, surrounded by jugglers and plate spinners as you queue to enter the main tent proper. The seating arrangements confused some, us included, which may need looking at.

Timing is everything. This year marking the 250th anniversary of circus in Britain and the success of the film musical The Greatest Showman, which also focuses on Barnum, are another plus.

A scene from the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company production of  Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKA scene from the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company production of Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

Having still not seen the film or the stage musical, I had no expectations which I liked.

Full of heart, the crew and cast’s hard work was there to see - from the circus skills learnt from the Fantasia team to the strong vocals, touching performances, tight choreography and moments of particularly clever staging which I won’t spoil here.

The addition of Circus Fantasia’s aerial artists Kizzy and Tilly Packham on silks and double trapeze was a nice touch .

The chemistry between Peter Ling as Barnum and Harriet Bacon as his wife Charity grounded the craziness. For every laugh out loud barbed exchange there were beautiful moments of tenderness.

A dazzling array of circus skills inthe Big Top Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKA dazzling array of circus skills inthe Big Top Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

The songs were great, particularly One Brick At A Time, Thank God I’m Old, featuring Lucy Mellamphy as oldest woman alive Joice Heth; and The Prince of Humbug.

The band occasionally drowned out the actors and the cast need to be mindful of the blindspots performing in a tent with poles creates but small niggles aside don’t miss the show which continues until July 1.

A colourful character from Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKA colourful character from Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

Trapeze artists show their skills above their co-performers Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKTrapeze artists show their skills above their co-performers Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company stage Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKThe Co-op Juniors Theatre Company stage Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

An all-action routine from the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company's Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKAn all-action routine from the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company's Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

A trapeze performer shows her skills Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKA trapeze performer shows her skills Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company stage Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKThe Co-op Juniors Theatre Company stage Barnum Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

The show features moment of drama, tenderness and lots of fun Picture: MIKE KWASNIAKThe show features moment of drama, tenderness and lots of fun Picture: MIKE KWASNIAK

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