Cromer and Sheringham Operatic and Dramatic Society

Eastern Daily Press 26th May 2008

Actors juggle tricky show with panache

Staging a circus on the end of the pier and asking "am dram" actors to learn juggling,  uni-cycling and tightrope walking as well as their lines, songs and dance steps is a high-risk strategy.

But, without the aid of a safety net, the Cromer and Sheringham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society has leapt at that daring trapeze - and grabbed it with both hands.

This is a show which relies on celebrating Phineas Taylor Barnum's thirst for colour and spectacle, and demands a lot from the whole cast, but two in particular.

Nick Bird in the exhausting, exhaustive title role is hardly off stage, leaping from scene to scene and song to song, witty monologue to circus skill with breathless verve and professionalism - though probably stronger at the machine-gun-worded patter songs than the melodic ballads.

He gets right under the skin of a character whose showbiz pizzazz resonates a little with the late Richard Condon who played a big role in reviving the show venue. But he also plumbs the pathos of being bereaved from his long-suffering but adoring wife Charity, played sublimely by Amanda Howell. Armed with a sweet singing voice and a majestic stage presence, she captures the down-to-earth woman who can out-"flim flam" her Prince of Humbug. The other singing gold star goes to Janette Davidson, whose operatic background has the Cromer Pier Pavilion Swedish Nightingale soaring.

The rest of the cast is a non-stop kaleidoscope of cameos and colourful circus characters from clowns and jugglers to strongmen and acrobats - along with freak-show novelties such as General Tom Thumb, whose size is cleverly highlighted by surrounding him with people on stilts. Some of the chorus numbers, when the voices, costumes and choreography came to the boil - such as One Brick At A Time and Black and White - were outstanding.

But there were moments when the inevitable dropped juggling balls and clubs, some slightly muddled mass movement on the stage and not-quite-on-cue lighting was a bit of a distraction from the songs - whose clever words need full focus and clarity.

Overall however, this brave venture is a triumph.

Barnum managed to complete his first-night tightrope walk without falling off, to earn rapturous applause. And so indeed, in their own way, did the rest of the cast.

Richard Batson