The inconspicuous title gives nothing away as to what awaits in this all-singing, all-dancing musical bringing silver-screen fantasy to life with the all-American melodies of Irving Berlin thrown in for good measure.
The touring comedy musical is a cheery affair, though its storyline doesn’t always hold up. Based on the 1967 British Lion film of the same name, struggling screenwriter Matthew Spenser (played by Haydn Oakley) and his wife Jean (played by Laura Pitt-Pulford) find themselves in hard times with bailiffs knocking at the door and little money when they hear Matthew has inherited a cinema from a distant relative. Thrilled at the news they dash off to Sloughborough only to discover the Bijou Kinema, better known as the ‘fleapit’, is rather decrepit and only a short way across the street from its competitor, the ultra modern Grand cinema run by the show’s comedy villain Ethel Hardcastle (played by Ricky Butt) and her husband Albert (played by Philip Rham). Creators Thom Southerland and Paul Alexander up-play a battle between the cinemas, bringing light comedy in between big showy numbers, though a decent villain song is missed.
Clunky set changes occasionally take away from the explosions of energy and group dance numbers that take place in bursts throughout the show, and there is a rather repetitive scene depicting the film interval shows towards the end that makes the storyline a tad forgettable. That said there is a true starry moment when the goofy Tom Fazackalee (played by Sam O’Rourke) and his sweetheart Marlene Hardcastle (played by Christina Bennington) break into ‘Steppin’ Out with my Baby’, a fantastic song and dance number that uplifts the audience and actors on stage alike, and sets the pace for the second act.
The show is full of loveable characters, including the wonderful Liza Goddard as Mrs Fazackalee and ex-Coronation Street villain, Brian Capron, who is almost unrecognisable as drunken projectionist Percy Quill. Though arguably one of the show’s biggest stars is camp solicitor Robin Carter (played by Matthew Crowe) who certainly knows how to steal a scene, popping up with a toe tap or witty line at all the right moments.
Berlin’s songs might not work in this classic British comedy on paper, but in reality they do and numbers including Blue Skies, Always and Shaking the Blues Away work seamlessly with the narrative to get the audience going, helped by the natural charm of Matt and Jean Spenser who flourish on stage.
All in all The Smallest Show on Earth is a British musical to be proud of and, with a little polishing, promises to leave you whistling to the tune of a Berlin classic all the way home.
To buy tickets visit www.thesmallestshowonearth.co.uk
Images: Alastair Muir