The Smallest Show on Earth

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Alison Kerr Three stars

If the title of the new musical The Smallest Show on Earth rings a distant bell, it’s because it is based on a gentle and whimsical, Ealing-esque 1957 film comedy which starred Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford. They played two of the original, geriatric staff members of a crumbling cinema which is inherited, and given a new lease of life, by a young couple who inherit it from a distant relative.

In its translation to the stage, The Smallest Show on Earth has lost only a little of its charm (after all, Sellers and Rutherford are impossible acts to follow) and gained a musical show’s worth of Irving Berlin songs, many of them either lesser-known numbers from his vast canon of work, or tunes that weren’t readily associated with an existing show, film or character.

So, does it work? Well, yes – though the gentle pleasures lie not, as in the original film, in the eccentric older characters or in their devotion to the bygone era of silent cinema. Whereas Sellers, Rutherford and their fellow crumbly, Bernard Miles, stole the show in the film, their equivalents in the musical – played by the well-kent names, Brian Capron and Liza Goddard – were outshone, at Monday’s Scottish premiere, by the leading lady, Laura Pitt-Pulford (playing the new owner’s wife), whose singing was one of the evening’s highlights, and Christina Bennington (as Marlene), whose dancing knocked spots off everyone else’s.

That said, nobody put a foot wrong in the comedy department; the cross-dressing lawyer and the middle-aged femme fatale wife of the rival cinema-owner were just two of the excellent supporting characters in this cheery, and handsome-looking, period show.

* Run ends Saturday