The Smallest Show on Earth

Belgrade Theatre Coventry


WHAT do you get if you cross Shepperton Studios and Tin Pan Alley?

The Smallest Show on Earth is a retelling of the glorious Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford film plus some well-known and not so well-known tunes from Irving Berlin including Blue Skies, Shaking the Blues Away and Stepping Out. I was charmed by Liza Goddard’s rendition to Marlene of Is He the Only Man in the World?

Sloughborough, c. 1952, and the Grand and the Bijou share the paltry pickings of the last days of cinema glamour.

The Grand dominates in Deco glory under the tutelage of the Hardcastle family, evil step-mother Ethel (Ricky Butt), hen-pecked Albert (Philip Rham) and daughter Marlene (Christina Bennington) while the Bijou, affectionately known as the Fleapit, struggles with rats, an ageing staff, ageing equipment and serious underinvestment in the flamboyant hands of Simon Spencer (Leo Andrew).

His untimely death during a rowdy drinking session at the Railway Arms delivers the Bijou to heir, struggling film writer, Matthew Spencer (Haydn Oakley) and new wife Jean (Laura Pitt-Pulford). They know nothing about running a cinema but, even if they did, the Bijou broke all the rules. Pickled projectionist Percy Quill (Brian Capron) and prickly pianist Mrs Dorothy Fazackalee (Liza Goddard) plus her sweetly naïve son Tom (Sam O’Rourke) as Commissionaire keep the place going on a shoestring.

Change of ownership gives the Hardcastles a chance to renew their derisory offer to turn the Bijou into a car park – but the dedicated staff, nobbled at every turn by Ethel, deserted by Matthew, find it is Jean who saves the day supported by unlikely heroine Marlene from the Hardcastle camp whose mother was a star there in its glory days.

This is a morality tale of the triumph of good, of ‘little people’, the power of love for the three couples Marlene and Tom, Matthew and Jean and, finally, of Dorothy and Percy. The final twist is a joy and I smiled for nearly two and a half hours. I loved the song and dance numbers, heard beautiful songs I didn’t know, loved the energy and, oh, fancy forgetting the probate solicitor! Robin Carter (Matthew Crowe) was, pardon this, a ‘fairy godmother’ whose resourcefulness contributes on many occasions including donning a dress when Marlene’s nerves got the better of her.

Directed by Thom Southerland, this is delightful, joyous and a treat and runs to 17-10-15.

Jane Howard



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