Barnum

Date 14th March 2020
Society Hawick Amateur Operatic Society HAOS
Venue Hawick Town Hall
Type of Production Musical
Director Derek Calder
Musical Director Derek Calder
Choreographer Anne Anderson
Producer Derek Calder

Report

Author: Deborah Lyons

When Hawick announced that they had acquired the performing rights for the Border Premiere of Barnum, the excitement was palpable from day one. As a show which brings many challenges it was evident that the company were unfazed. Producer and Musical Director quite openly admits that this is his favourite show, therefore it was an immense gift, albeit mega hard work to achieve his dream. There is no doubt that everyone involved in this production has every right to celebrate in it’s triumph. The whole venue was a feast for the eyes with an amazing set of decorations. The entrance hall, fun fair stalls with popcorn and drinks, auditorium and staging were all beautifully dressed and brought the audience right into the the world of P.T. Barnum.  The choreography was managed brilliantly, with tricks, acrobatics, stilt walking, juggling and high wire, not to mention action spilling into the auditorium, to the delight of the audience, especially the children. It was certainly a show that could easily have been experienced more than once to fully appreciate it’s complexity, spectacle, colour, atmospheric lighting and slick scene changes. The balance of a great band also complimented the show from start to finish.

The title role of P.T. Barnum was a gift, truly fulfilled by Iain Scott. He moved into circus mode from the opening scene, portraying natural charm, which this mammoth role requires, and he did it in a wholehearted engaging way. He certainly made this a character to remember and I’m sure that he will feel that it was the pinnacle of his amateur career so far. Whether ‘humbug’, ‘flimflam’, ‘hogwash’, ‘shilly-shally’ or ‘sucker’ was on his agenda it was carried out with true conviction and similarly with very tricky, wordy songs. He scaled ropes, changed shoes and walked the line while singing, which was a challenge enough to have hearts in mouths! As a character that is hardly ever offstage and leads almost every well know big number in the show, the vocal strength of Barnum was invaluable to be able to sustain seven, full on performances. This was a superb performance and deserves huge praise.

Barnum’s wife, advisory, soul-mate and conscience, Chairy, was perfectly cast in Ashley Wolf. Her secret control, in her coin-flipping way, guided the man whom she seemed to know better than he knew himself. Her natural portrayal  and vocal strength shone throughout. She led the company number ‘One Brick at a Time’, which  featured clowns, acrobats and tricks with choral harmony and counterpoint, which was a colourful feast of movement and song.  Chairy also shows her vulnerable side in a lovely, touching rendition of ‘The Colours of my Life’, reprising later in an harmonic duet with Barnum. They also charmed us with a playful ‘I Like Your Style’.

The versatile and acrobatic Alexander Edwards played The Ringmaster with charismatic ease. Tumbling, climbing, juggling and unicycling was no trouble to this confident lithe young man. He assisted Barnum and full chorus in the two show-stopping highlights, ‘Come Follow the Band’ and ‘Join the Circus’.

The role of Jenny Lind was excellently played and very competently sung by Kim Jeffrey. The Swedish nightingale who turned Barnum’s head also managed to perfect her accent after her comical “Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen” introduction. This young lady not only excelled in her supporting role but she also managed the quick changes to participate as a juggling clown, proving her talented versatility and enthusiasm.

The larger than life character Tom Thumb was perfectly sized for Charlie Marshall. His rendition of ‘Bigger Isn’t Better’ fully engaged his audience. Well sung and comically danced with his two, very capable, high stilted Beefeaters, who danced with him, won him loud applause. 

The ‘humbug’ centenarian Joyce Heth was very comically portrayed by Shelagh Duncan in a hugely padded fat suit. Her enthusiastic ‘Thank God I’m Old’ solo and dance with the chorus was hilarious, as her high kicking tambourine antics and pirouettes displayed some rather large red knickers.  Great fun!

Blues Singer, Caroline Wilkinson was in excellent voice once again and perfectly cast in her vocal role  to feature in ‘Black and White’  with Barnum, Chairy and Chorus. A really fabulous number which evolves from the dramatic two tones to a plethora of colour and activity. 

It remains to say that every single cameo role, clown and circus character had an integral part to play in this outstanding production. On stage, back stage and front of house must be so proud of their massive achievement with months of dedicated circus coaching and practice obviously resulting in many more strings to many more bows. Huge Congratulations!