Set in the 1800s, Barnum is inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum; a showman who made is living from hoaxes and deceptions (or "humbugs" as he lovingly called them).
Before the show even starts, circus members mingle with the audience, balancing along the top of chairs, juggling and rolling hula hoops along the shoulders of anyone willing. This engagement continues at various points throughout the show, making it all the more immersive.
Mayflower favourite Brian Conley energetically plays the lead in the latest production. Very much a versatile performer himself, he is perfectly cast as the master trickster. Linzi Hateley joins his side as Chairy, his fiery but supportive wife.
Luring audiences with the promise of mermaids, the tiniest man in the world and 160-year-old Presidential nannies, the ambitious Barnum even sets up a museum one brick at a time and runs for governmental office. Of course, based on a true story, life isn't always perfect for the silver-tongued entrepreneur. It's during these moments that we can appreciate Conley's full range as a performer.
Musical highlights include 'There is a sucker born every minute', 'The colours of my life', 'So little time' and a powerful performance of 'Love makes such fools of us all' by Kimberly Blake as Jenny Lind.
There are beautifully elegant acrobatics complimenting some of the songs, with a high level of skill and height-indifference on display. But those expecting a fully-fledged circus experience throughout may be somewhat disappointed, as the tone definitely darkens in the second act. Credit to Brian Conley however, who has clearly put a lot of time into mastering some impressive new skills of his own...
Barnum is a joyous spectacle, with an electric cast, great choreography, catchy songs and hilarious humbugs throughout.
A final word of advice if you happen to sit in the first few rows - you might want to wear something waterproof...
Review by: Sarah O'Connell
Review Date: 11th June 2015
Rating out of 5:
The Mayflower, Southampton