Review: Hawick Amateur Operatic Society’s production of Barnum

It’s not so much Bah Humbug as the brilliant and noble art of humbug.

By Kevin Janiak
Tuesday, 10th March 2020, 11:02 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th March 2020, 11:21 am
The Cast
The Cast

Roll up, roll up, to the Town Hall in Hawick this week for an evening of superb tunes, outstanding circus skills, and a peek at some of the most magical wonders of the world.

OK, that last one could be a construed as an example of the noble art of humbug ... which is apt as it’s a theme running through Hawick Amateur Operatic Society’s production of Barnum. But it’s not too far from the truth.

It’s a premiere performance of the Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart extravaganza and it’s a joy to hear songs you’ve never heard of before, sung with such penache.

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Ellie Hope, Emma Coltman, Natalie Darcy, Rachel Goldie, Sophie Hyslop, Daniel Drummond and Erin Hogg

Not only did the entire cast have to learn all their words and songs, they had to learn the art of juggling, stilt-walking, tumbling, hoolahooping and even unicycle-riding.

The whole thing is a veritable feast for the eyes and ears, the storyline whizzing along, as seen through the memories of its central character.

It’s all brought together by the undoubted skills of producer Derek Calder and choreographer Anne Anderson, but the glue that holds it all together is Iain Scott as P.T. Barnum.

He has more balls to juggle than anyone else, it’s fair to say, as he is a constant onstage and has a huge amount to remember, including not to fall off the high wire!

Shelagh Duncan as Joice Heth with PT Barnum Iain Scott

The show opens with the barnstorming There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute, but it’s in The Colours of my Life, the duet with Barnum’s wife Chairy, played by Ashley Wolf, where the chemistry really comes into play.

The harmonies are on-point, and Wolf’s singing voice has really come of age since she played the lead role in the society’s Sister Act show a few years ago. She was good then, now she’s outstanding.

Another highlight is Charlie Marshall as General Tom Thumb, Barnum’s top “exhibit”.

He enters the stage with a physical glee every time with a smile that can’t be dimmed, and his rendition of Bigger Isn’t Better is a delight. He’s also onstage a lot as a clown.

Beth Jackson, Chelsea Fraser, Danni Logan and Niamh Scott

Kim Jeffrey is also brilliant as Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale who – for anyone who has not watched the blockbuster The Greatest Showman, which tells the same story – briefly wins the attentions of the lead character.

She takes on the tough job of singing Love Makes Such Fools Of Us with great gusto, hitting the high notes with some measure of ease.

Shelagh Duncan plays the oldest woman in the world, the purportedly 160-year-old Joice Heth with no small measure of comedic genius in the ditty Thank God I’m Old, and Caroline Wilkinson’s delivery of Black and White, as the Blues Singer from the balcony is fantastic.

Alexander Edwards, as the ringmaster and Barnum’s final partner in humbugging, Bailey, provides some enthusiastic health and safety headaches by bouncing down from the high balcony on more than one occasion, and talks Barnum into coming back into the business in the song Join the Circus.

Concert Master Zack Mundell and Kimberley Jeffrey as Jenny Lind

There’s at times so much going on onstage that you don’t know where to look, and when you leave you can still see clowns tumbling around in the back of your eyes.

A lot of thought has gone into the set design, as well as the design of the entire interior of the Town Hall. Be prepared for a surprise in the refreshments area ... it really ties it all together,

It is an absolute triumph, from the whole cast to the tight orchestra, from the costumes to the choreography.

It certainly sets the bar high for the society’s next production ... Kinky Boots, from March 8-13, 2021.

Don’t miss it.

Hawick Amateur Operatic Society’s fantastic production of Barnum is at the Town Hall in the High Street all this week.

Bairns Matthew Rudkin and Carly Wolf with Ann Clarke as Mrs Stratton and Charlie Marshall as Tom Thumb
Lucy Brennan, Daniel Drummond, Chelsea Fraser, Danni Logan and Natalie Darcy