The Smallest Show On Earth is billed as a new Irving Berlin musical – a statement that becomes quite intriguing when you realise he died in 1989 and the show’s actually based on a film. It’s essentially a jukebox musical, but one that seems to work pretty well as a result of the wide range of songs the creators had to chose from (Berlin wrote around 1,200!) and the enchanting story which unfolds as the Spensers inherit the Bijou cinema. It follows the staff of the aforementioned cinema as they help to relaunch it, dealing with death, debt and drama as they battle it out with the Sloughbrough’s other movie theatre, the Grand.
First things first let’s mention easily the best thing about this show – Laura Pitt-Pulford. She’s a musical theatre force to be reckoned with; her vocals were absolutely sublime every time she was on stage and she captivated the audience with modesty and ease. The rest of The Smallest Show On Earth‘s cast are similarly talented (though somewhat overshadowed by the brilliance of Pitt-Pulford). Christina Bennington gets her chance to shine as Marlene Hardcastle and Ricky Butt is similarly amusing as the repulsive Ethel Hardcastle.
Also commendable about The Smallest Show On Earth is David Woodhead’s superb set and costume design. It’s not surprising to learn that both were done by the same person; the two elements seemed very intertwined and really gave the show a great sense of style. The costumes, in particular, were excellent and it felt has if a lot and care and attention had gone into each individual costume change.
The use of Irving Berlin’s music helped yet further to place the show in its 1950s time period. Big, upbeat numbers like Blue Skies and Shaking The Blues Away were beautifully balanced with more thoughtful pieces like Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. I’m usually quite firmly against the jukebox musical but this really seemed to work and didn’t feel like it sacrificed any of the story in order to shoehorn in some songs. At times some of the music didn’t really feel like it had much relevance to the plot, but as it was so well written I think I’ll let it off.
Some other aspects of the show did seem to be more of a mixed bag. At times I felt my lazy teenage brain drifting off and feeling ever-so-slightly bored during the less exciting parts of the show (basically any time Laura Pitt-Pulford wasn’t on stage). Similarly, Lee Proud’s choreography had moments of brilliance (most notably in Steppin’ Out With My Baby) mixed in with some slightly dodgy movements that made me cringe at watching them being performed in front of an audience.
An enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, but it’s not anything particularly life-changing. Go for a feel-good show with a decent plot and some pleasant songs (and to witness the brilliance of Laura Pitt-Pulford).
The Smallest Show On Earth plays the Mercury Theatre until 10th October before touring the UK.