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“The Prince of Humbug”

Nickname for PT Barnum

Matt Rawle as PT Barnum. (Photo: Pamela Raith)

On a fine summer’s evening, acrobats dressed in Victorian circus clown outfits will perform before the show.  The first views to strike you are the frills on the male acrobats’ underwear, a delightful Victorian costume.  This is the exciting circus pre-show for the musical production of Barnum which is showing until September, at the Watermill, Newbury, Berkshire’s prettiest theatre.  But you do not have to worry if it is raining because the main show is in the theatre and the preshow can move indoors. 

Barnum is the story of the legendary American showman PT Barnum (Matt Rawle) and his wife Charity (Monique Young).  I have long been a fan of Matt Rawle specially since I saw him in the 2008 production of Zorro where he sang and thrilled with great swordsmanship.

PT Barnum was called “The Greatest Showman” and with due reason.  In the role of Barnum, Matt Rawle excels in engaging the audience with humour and sincerity, despite Barnum’s reputation for exaggeration in attracting the audience which earned him the title, “The Prince of Humbug”.  What he did do was having lured the people in on slightly false pretences was to make sure they had a thoroughly good time. We see him playing the piano with both his legs in the air which makes us smile.

Acrobats. (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Besides Barnum’s many money making ventures, and some that failed, the main thrust of the musical is to concentrate on Barnum’s marriage to Charity or Chairy as he calls her.  He tells us that she “turns up her nose at his gifts as if they were yesterday’s fish!”   It is true that Charity is more practically minded. The song “The Colors of my Life” illustrates Barnum’s colourful vision for entertaining the public which he explains to Charity. 

We start with a woman at first thought be the oldest woman in the world, Joice Heth (Tania Mathurin) but whom Barnum repackaged as George Washington’s 160 year old nurse.

Penny Ashmore as Jenny Lind (Photo: Pamela Raith)

In 1841, Barnum purchased Scudder’s American Museum in New York City and in November 1864 the Confederates attempted to burn it down. Barnum was a Unionist and anti-slavery.  In July 1865 it did burn to the ground in a fire of unknown origin. ­­ Barnum rebuilt it which we see in the number “One Brick at a Time” with his circus team acrobats passing red bricks to each other.  This second museum burns down and Barnum leaves the museum business to tour his idea of a museum on wheels. 

We meet General Tom Thumb (Fergus Rattigan) marketed as a very small man with “a high polish on the facts”.  In this case Tom Thumb was a seven year old boy with dwarfism but he dressed up as Napoleon and thrilled the crowds.  Extra large musical instruments are brought onstage to make Tom Thumb look smaller.  

Matt Rawle performs his own highlight when he walks along a tight rope the full width of the stage with no wire or safety net.  “Bravo!” we cheer.  At the end of Act One, Jenny Lind (the powerful soprano Penny Ashmore), the Swedish nightingale, is persuaded by Barnum to come to America and Barnum has to choose between keeping his star happy and pleasing his wife.

Monique Young as Charity Barnum and Matt Rawle as PT Barnum. (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Lee Newby’s designs are brilliantly vivid and the cast uses actor musicians joining in with acting singing and playing instruments and performing circus feats.  Strictly’s Oti Mabuse is the choreographer for this show. Circus Director Amy Panter deserves special mention for the exhilarating gymnastic turns from the cast.

The Second Act sees fresh costumes and while the songs up to now have been full on band numbers, there is a change of tempo.  On the White House Lawn, Jenny Lind sings “Love Makes Such Fools of Us All”.   I loved “Black and White” for its crisp visuals; even the stars and stripes are in monochrome.


Finally we see Barnum’s political career as Mayor of Bridgeport Connecticut and his support for universal suffrage, for woman and Black Americans. “The Colors of My Life” is reprised sung by Barnum and Charity who sadly dies. The song “The Prince of Humbug” is followed by a joyous finale.  What a superb show for all the family!  Five stars from Theatrevibe, the site that doesn’t do stars! 


Matt Rawle. (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Musical Numbers

Act One


   There Is A Sucker Born Every Minute

    Thank God I’m Old

    The Colors Of My Life

    One Brick At A Time

    Museum Song 

    I Like Your Style

    Bigger Isn’t Better

    Jenny Lind’s Obligato

    Love Makes Such Fools Of Us All

    Out There


Act Two

Come Follow The Band

    Love Makes Such Fools of Us All (reprise)   

    Black And White

    The Colors of my Life (Reprise)

    Join The Circus



Production Notes


Composed by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by  Michael Stewart
Book by Mark Bramble

Directed by Jonathan O’Boyle



Charis Alexandra

Penny Ashmore

Josh Barnett

Elena Buck

Kiera Brunton

Kaine Hatukai

Dan Holland

Jessica Jolleys

Tania Mathurin

Emma Jane Morton

Emily Odunsi

Fergus Rattigan

Matt Rawle

André Rodrigues 

Laura Sillett

Tom Sowinski

Tom Sterling

Monique Young




Director:  Johnathan O’Boyle

Choreographer: Oti Mabuse

Designer: Lee Newby

Musical Supervisor and Orchestrator: George Dyer

Lighting Designer:  Jai Morjaria

Sound Designer: Tom Marshall

Circus Director :  

Amy Panter


Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval

Booking until  8th September 2024 


Watermill Theatre



RG20 8AE

Box Office: 01635 46044


Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Watermill Theatre

on 9th July  2024

Clowns in Barnum (Photo: Pamela Raith)