Saturday, 14 June 2014

Chapter 14: Barnum and The Art of Marital Humbug

"You wonder how we made it down the aisle... "

Today is the 14th June, 2014.  England are playing New Zealand in Rugby Union again.  The last time we beat New Zealand was on this day eleven years ago.  The day my husband and I got married.  What a show we put on.  And life has been pretty colourful ever since.  

We often see red, for instance.  We are both passionate about our interests, but he is the scientist, I am the creative.  He is tall, dark and steady, I am small, freckled and feisty.  He has zero interest in circus. I don't do quantum physics. We have an ability to get under each other skins like nobody's business. There are times when you do indeed wonder how we made it down the aisle. And that's where Mr and Mrs Barnum come in. Barnum the grafter, and his wife the moral compass. Chalk and cheese, but deeply in love, although in this case the roles are reversed...

One of the challenges for me, writing this blog, is to keep him reading.  He is my litmus test as to whether the writing convinces.  I am quite evangelical in my passion for circus, you could say my favourite position is missionary, and I have loved the musical Barnum for many years.  My eldest sister saw the show with Michael Crawford in the 80s, who went on to be the West End's original Phantom of the Opera.   The BBC screened Barnum one day, and I remember being astounded by the stunts Crawford pulled off.  I listened to my sister's tape of Barnum so much it stretched and broke.

Then last year, as my youngest approached her first birthday, and I felt stretched and broken, I remembered the tape and its upbeat circus songs, so ordered a copy on Amazon for my sister and myself. A couple of months later we were driving down to visit my parents in Hampshire and I noticed a sign up advertising Barnum at Chichester Festival Theatre.  What are the odds?  It was the first staging by Cameron Mackintosh since those Crawford days, so of course we signed up.

The first time we went to see Barnum we took my son, then aged 7, and it happened to be press night. A load of poe-faced journalists sitting with their notebooks out. Uh-oh, I thought, they're just not going to get it.  The production bombed.  And even with the best will in the world, I could see why.  The leads were charismatic, the circus turns were terrific, all the singing and dancing was strong, but the show was unwieldy. Barnum's voice had given up the ghost, and he didn't make it across the tightrope.  His shout out in frustration "Oh, come on, COME ON!  Give me a break!" reminded me of John McEnroe. And actually, although he dropped the ball, so to speak, I thought he recovered it brilliantly.  You could well believe the fall was intentional, illustrating that Barnum is a risk-taker, plans do go awry, yet he always bounces back. But even I was bored at points.  Not one to give up, we went back at the end of the summer, this time to a matinee taking my daughter (aged 5) as well. This time the show had been streamlined, numbers cut, sequences edited, it was a different show.   And Barnum made it across the tightrope in fine singing voice to thunderous applause.


The kids loved it, we watch the trailer over and over, and have the music on repeat play in the car. It is exciting to hear today, then, that the musical is coming back on tour in the Autumn.  And my husband can babysit.

So, here you go.  Happy Anniversary darling, and here's to many more years of marital humbug. 
I like your style ...

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