Barnum on Ice

JOHN LAWSON To borrow an over-used football cliché, Barnum on Ice is a show of two halves.An overly-wordy, overly-hammy biographical first half about the life of America's greatest showman gives way after the interval to what this outstanding company really does best: skating and acrobatics of the highest order, both on and above the ice.

JOHN LAWSON

Barnum on Ice

The Russian Ice Stars

Theatre Royal, Norwich


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To borrow an over-used football cliché, Barnum on Ice is a show of two halves.

An overly-wordy, overly-hammy biographical first half about the life of America's greatest showman gives way after the interval to what this outstanding company really does best: skating and acrobatics of the highest order, both on and above the ice.

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After the dramatic and musical power of last season's Phantom of the Opera, the company seems to have taken a huge step back with the script of ex-Byker Grover Billy Fane, who is certainly no Gaston Leroux when it comes to story-telling.

He makes talented vocalist Stephen Lee Garden maintain the ceaseless banter of a stand-up comedian when all we really want to do is watch the skating and hear him sing, albeit that the music – written by Tim Duncan, Nick Jackson and Edward Barnwell – was largely unremarkable.

Also slightly bizarre was the fact that Garden was the only voice to perform live, the other voices – of Barnum's wife Charity (skated by Maria Borovikova) and mistress Jenny Lind (Olga Cheroutenko) pumping out on tape.

And worse yet, Fane gives some of the skaters themselves speaking parts when they are neither actors nor comfortable with the language.

That said, I was happy to forgive the ultra-gamine Ekaterina Murgova anything. The former world champion was just a delight as Pierrot, who led Barnum through his life story, and she was also given plenty of opportunity to show she has lost none of her skating skill either.

But in the second half, the production becomes a full-blooded ice and circus show, with great choreography, colourful costumes, scintillating skating and heart-stopping acrobatics.

Leading the line for the skaters were Vadim Jarkov and Sergei Smirnov, while high-fliers extraordinaire were Alexander and Ekaterina Belokapitov and Ioulia Aioupova.

And watch out for the quartet of girls skating on stilts – there must be an easier way of making a living.

Barnum on Ice plays until Saturday July 20.

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