REVIEW: Barnum, Theatre Royal, Newcastle, until February 28

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ROLL up, roll up, come see the world’s oldest woman, the world’s smallest General and a showman with the biggest personality in stage - should read the ticket to Barnum.

Brian Conley isn’t clowning around in this new production of the musical which brings to life the colourful tale of American showman Phineas T Barnum. He means business - show business.

Before there was the X Factor, before there was festivals, circus was No.1 when it came to entertaining the masses.

This show explodes with colour even before curtain up, as jugglers, trapeze artists and strongmen burst into the crowd, walking along backs of chairs, walking down stairs on their hands and performing other spectacular feats.

It immediately draws you into the world of mid-nineteenth century entertainment. Then main man Brian Conley emerges on stage to keep you hooked.

Bursting with charisma, he breaks the fourth wall to engage with the audience, making us the crowd in his travelling circus. As we journey through the trials and tribulations of this real life businessman and showman, we meet elephants, mermaids, dazzling tricks and revel in his tall tales.

Even Brian himself gets in on the act, stilt-walling and performing a daring tight rope walk across the stage. If the actor had been born in the age of sideshow entertainment, it’s easy to believe this would be the life of Brian.

Though I was unfamiliar with any of the tracks in this musical, and there are certainly bigger, better tunes in theatre, it’s the spectacle of the show which gives it its shine.

As you would expect from a Cameron Mackintosh production, the sets are glorious and the costumes lavish, transforming the Theatre Royal stage into a big top.

There were minor lulls in the action as Barnum chases a political career, with wife Chairy, played deftly by Linzi Hateley, at his side.

The plot may be a little thin, but the show must go on and the big circus antics more than make up for this. Special mention must go to the highly-skilled ensemble who twirl, back flip and tumble their way across the stage in an exhilarating and vibrant feast for the eyes.