Theatre Review: The Smallest Show on Earth - Theatre Royal Glasgow ✭✭✭✭

Review by Sharman Prince

Based on the 1957 British Lion comedy, The Smallest Show On Earth is the story of a pair of penniless newlyweds, 'Jean' and 'Matthew Spenser' (Laura Pitt-Pulford and Haydn Oakley) who learn they have inherited a cinema in Sloughborough. After setting out to view what they hope will be their financial salvation they discover that the 'Bijou Kinema' is anything but. Faced with stiff competition from a rival cinema run by 'Ethel' and 'Albert Hardcastle' (Ricky Butt and Philip Rham) they set out to restore the 'Bijou' to its more successful days. Faced with its quirky staff, including alcoholic projectionist 'Mr Quill' (Brian Capron - of 'Coronation Street' fame), and sabotage attempts from the 'Hardcastles', the 'Spensers' must formulate a plan to make their little flea-pit into a success before it is bought out and turned into a car-park.

It seems an odd juxtaposition that the British plot should be united with Irving Berlin but the marriage is a happy one and his songs are used to serve and further the story which has undergone some happy adaptation from the original film: Thom Southerland and Paul Alexander's script captures the feel of those Ealing-period British comedies and is peppered with great one-liners and develops some appealing relationships not necessarily in the original film.
Musical supervisor/arranger Gareth Valentine and Orchestrator Mark Cumberland ensure that the songs are weaved into and around the dialogue and the sound produced by the six-piece orchestra is spot on. All of these elements consolidate to create a fully formed piece of musical theatre that feels organic and sincere. Of course, it was not unusual for composers to create new musicals from their own back-catalogue and Berlin was amongst those who elected to pick and choose numbers when creating a new musical for stage or screen, so the idea of using pre-existing numbers is not a new strategy here but it is a successful one.

David Woodhead's set and costume design is elegant and witty and is beautifully complimented by Howard Hudson's lighting design. Thom Southerland's direction is energetic, tender and precise and he is adept at creating interesting, exciting transitions whilst never neglecting his cast with whom he creates some lovely sequences although some tightening could be undertaken in places. The musical staging is entertaining and the choreography by Lee Proud is perfectly suited to the style and nature of the piece, evoking an age long since past.

The cast are led by Liza Goddard as 'Mrs Fazackalee' and Brian Capron as 'Mr Quill' and both are pleasing to watch whilst also providing some of the more moving moments in the production. Laura Pitt-Pulford and Haydn Oakley have a delightful and believable chemistry as the newlyweds and both are blessed with glorious vocals. Christina Bennington and Sam O'Rourke are unrelentingly charming as the youngsters from opposing families whose sweet, adolescent relationship adds a youthful energy and warmth to proceedings whilst Matthew Crowe, as reluctant solicitor 'Robin Carter', has some of the most fun onstage; he proves to be a truly entertaining all-round performer and gleans all he can out of one of the most amusing parts in the show. The supporting ensemble is strong in all aspects and the entire company shines consistently.

"The Smallest Show On Earth" is a charming, amusing and ultimately entertaining heart-warming little show that harkens back to a more nostalgic time and it is a bit of a dark horse amongst the more monolithic productions that are also currently touring. The theatrical equivalent of a hearty Sunday roast this understated yet tenacious and robust production is perfect fare for many an audience member and the opportunity should be taken to enjoy it while you can: It is a lovely little show.

The Smallest Show on Earth is at the Theatre Royal until 31st October. For tickets and information visit