The pedant in me would like to know how it is that, if this production has repositioned Carousel in Britain (it is, as you know, usually set in late nineteenth-century Maine), that Billy Bigelow (Declan Bennett) can dream of his yet unborn child possibly becoming President of the United States. And since when did we have “a real nice clambake” in Blighty? Such outdoor gatherings are about as risky as – ahem – open-air theatre in London. On press night, the rain fell on several occasions during the performance, and I was quietly impressed with the show carrying on. Health and safety regulations and guidelines being what they are, one would be forgiven for thinking even a light shower might have been enough to put a temporary pause on proceedings. But they got through it, even if the shoes audibly squeaked during a late dancing scene.
The stage revolve was kept busy, as if to subtly say that the world keeps turning irrespective of what people say or the decisions they make. The cast retain their natural accents: the Welsh tones of Christina Modestou’s Carrie Pipperidge, for instance, are a rare opportunity to hear lyrics from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical sung in a very different manner from the norm. The set, somewhat in keeping with previous Open Air Theatre musicals in recent years, stays more or less the same, with props instead helping to set the scene.
I tend to find the last few scenes in Carousel bordering on the ridiculous. The most absurd elements have, thankfully, been removed in this production, which has done well to think about the long-term impacts of Bigelow’s actions by placing more emphasis on his daughter Louise (Natasha May-Thomas) than whatever it is he’s saying and doing. But perhaps the most significant rethink comes in the form of the musical orchestrations. A number of musicians take to the stage more than once, like a trade union brass band, and this production is devoid of violins and cellos (and so on), which gives Richard Rodgers’ music a sharper and edgier feel. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly different – and refreshing.
Gone from the dialogue, tellingly, is the line “He hit me, mother, he hit me hard, but it didn’t hurt, it felt like a kiss”. And then there’s ‘What’s the Use of Wonderin’’’, sung beautifully by Julie Jordan (Carly Bawden) but nonetheless an exhortation to other women to follow their husbands unquestionably: “Anywhere he leads you, you will walk / And any time he needs you, you’ll go running there like mad”. That was then, of course, and this is now. This version pulls away from the idea (looking at Carousel through contemporary lenses) that violence is forgivable, even if not justified, so long as the perpetrator loves the victim. On the other hand, as there is no explicit redemption for Bigelow, does the production’s closing moments have less heightened emotion than it would have done otherwise?
With no weak links to report, it is difficult to select stand-out performances. That said, Joanna Riding’s Nettie Fowler delivers ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ with a mixture of stoicism and hopefulness, and John Pfumojena’s Enoch Snow was hilarious in his punctiliousness. Drew McOnie’s choreography is, for the most part, thoughtful and vibrant. Overall, a fresh production of a loved musical theatre classic worth seeing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Based on Ferenc Molnar’s Play “Liliom” as adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer | Original Choreography by Agnes de Mille.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is presented through special arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. On behalf of R&H Theatricals.
The cast includes Carly Bawden (Julie Jordan), Declan Bennett (Billy Bigelow), John Pfumojena (Enoch Snow), Joanna Riding (Nettie Fowler) and Natasha May-Thomas (Louise Bigelow), Brendan Charleson (Mr Bascombe), Jo Eaton-Kent (Mrs Mullin), Sam Mackay (Jigger Craigin), Ediz Mahmut (Young Enoch) and Christina Modestou (Carrie Pipperidge). Ensemble members include Chanelle Jasmine Anthony, Craig Armstrong, William Atkinson, Shay Barclay, Sarah Benbelaid, Chrissy Brooke, Jack Butterworth. Madeline Charlemagne, Freya Field, Sebastian Goffin, Amie Hibbert, Tim Hodges, Lukas Hunt,Tessa Kadler Emily Langham, Lindsay McAllister, Matthew McKenna, Jack Mitchell, Charlotte Riby, Lisa Ritchie, Christopher Tendai and Daisy West.
Children include: Raphael Baron Cohen, Olivia Bart-Plange, Desmond Cole, Siahra Edmonson, Skye Hall, Matilda Hamilton, Jonah Herron, Isa Jones, Elliot Langley-Aybar, Maia, Jasmine Nyenya, Kelly Orbase, Jude O’Sullivan-Whiting, Nooh Rauf and Albie Salter.
Carousel is created by David Allen (associate set designer), Joanna Bowman (associate director), Lucy Casson (casting director), Tom Deering (music supervisor, arrangements & orchestrations), Mark Dickman (associate musical director), Molly Einchcomb (costume designer), Annie May Fletcher* (sound associate), Barbara Houseman (season associate director/voice and text director), Nick Lidster (sound designer), Ingrid Mackinnon (intimacy support), Simisola Majekodunmi* (lighting associate), Aideen Malone (lighting designer), Matthew Malone (Assistant Musical Director), Drew McOnie (choreographer), Ebony Molina (associate choreographer), Verity Naughton (children’s casting director), James Orange (casting director), Susanna Peretz (wigs, hair & makeup designer), Tom Scutt (set designer & co-costume designer), Timothy Sheader (director), Jacob Sparrow (casting director), Kate Waters (fight director).
Monday 9th August, 7.30pm (Gates Open at 6pm)
Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU
Running time: approx. 2 hours 35 minutes (including a 25 minute interval)