Theatre reviews: Barnum and Twelve Angry Men

Brian Conley in Barnum
Brian Conley in Barnum
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Barnum, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield. Reviewed by Peter McNerney ****

You head to the theatre full of expectation and relief that for a few hours you will be able to escape the onslaught of the General Election campaign only to find a musical barnstormer which features, you’ve guessed it, an election. As P T Barnum might say, I’m not talking humbug, unlike some of today’s politicians currently desperate for our votes.

The great showman did indeed dabble in the world of politics and this is reflected in this joyous celebration of the life of the 19th century American impresario. Devoted to his wife “Chairy” he revolutionised the world of entertainment and made a career out of “humbug”, tricking the public into believing they were witnessing the worlds oldest woman at 160 or even a real-life mermaid. But he did introduce Queen Victoria to Charles Stratton. Better known as the 25 inch tall Tom Thumb.

Jim Dale and Michael Crawford both achieved success in the title role of this 1980 show with music by Broadway legend Cy Coleman. Now it’s the turn of West End stalwart Brian Conley to shine. Watching the actor,singer and comedian on stage at the Lyceum is a masterclass of professionalism. It’s a Tuesday night, he’s on top form and the audience love it.

There will be plenty more humbug from some politicians filling the airwaves over the coming weeks. They’ll be hoping , as Barnum did, that there’s “a sucker born every minute”. Spend a couple of hours with some humbug that won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s thumbs up for Barnum.

• To April 11. And at Leeds Grand Theatre, April 14-25.

Twelve Angry Men, Leeds Grand Theatre. Reviewed by Julie Marshall ****

The 1957 film version of Twelve Angry Men, itself an adaptation of a made-for-television film first broadcast in 1954, was an unlikely hit. The 12 men in question are members of a jury, locked in a small room on a sweltering hot day to determine the fate of a young black man, on trial for his life for killing his father.

The one-room location translates perfectly to the theatre. Tom Conti in the lead role as juror number 8 is polished and professional. As the lone voice in a sea of hostility he patiently and systematically presents arguments as to why the rest of his fellow jurors should re-examine the evidence and their own prejudices to find the defendant not guilty.

The rest of the cast too deliver solid performances. In particular, Andrew Lancel as the troubled business owner Juror 3 who is estranged from his own son is superb. Equally memorable is Dennis Lill as the nasty, bigoted racist Juror 10 who condemns the defendant as ‘one of them’ from the very beginning.

A superb piece of theatre and, despite most knowing the outcome, one which keeps the audience enthralled throughout.

• To April 11. And at York Grand Theatre, April 13-18.