Theatre Review: Carousel

But somehow I can see, Just exactly how I’d be
If I loved you…

If I Loved You ~ Carousel

Synopsis

Carousel tells the story of two mill workers, Julie and Carrie in the 1940s. While at the fair one evening, Julie falls for barker Billy and forgoes her curfew to spend the night with him (knowing she will lose her job in the process).

Struggling to make ends meet, Billy and Julie’s relationship is not a happy one. When Julie discovers she is pregnant, Billy realises that he needs to step up and support his unborn child; persuaded into a robbery to get some cash, things do not go according to plan and Billy ends up dead. Arriving at the gates of Heaven, he is given the chance to go back and make things right with his daughter Louise, who is now a teenager.

This production was performed at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Review

For most people, the image of a fairground is nostalgic, perhaps conjuring up fond childhood memories of candy floss and laughter amongst the galloping horses…

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel is not quite as happy. Adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, the musical looks at love, loss and regret. It also deals with desperation and domestic violence, themes that have sadly been prevalent during the last year.

These themes still resonate with a modern audience, yet this adaptation (directed by Timothy Sheader) brings something new to the traditional tale, choosing to focus on the women left behind with the effects. It’s a powerful concept, but doesn’t quite deliver.

Part of the story is told through dance; to those of us who know the story it is beautiful, with a subtle brilliance that speaks volumes. For spectators new to Carousel, the power of its message is lost. By changing the ending, we also lose some of the original magic.

After his death, Billy (Declan Bennett) seeks redemption, desperate to see his teenage daughter who he never met; instead we see him fail yet again, his repentance almost non-existent. It’s a sad, albeit realistic, message, but slightly confusing and unsatisfactory. Without Billy’s redemption, Julie is denied closure after years of suffering.

In fact the whole of Act II seems underwhelming, which is a shame after such a powerful first act. It’s much shorter, but a lot happens, and these events feel somewhat diluted as there isn’t enough time for it to resonate.

Costumes and staging seem somewhat bland; these may have been chosen to add to the depressing undertones, but are quite disappointing, considering the amount of rousing numbers and frivolity in the majority of the show. However, given the UK’s summer weather, there may also have been a practical element in the decision…

That said, Carousel has a fantastic cast, with several actors switching roles due to the continued effects of COVID-19. Singing, acting and dancing are phenomenal. Charlotte Riby is excellent as Mrs Mullin, providing us with humour, but also a deeper understanding of Billy’s character. The relationship between Julie (Carly Bawden) and Billy is both tender and tragic, but their chemistry feels genuine in the touching moments. Joanna Riding returns to the musical, this time as Nettie – a character to whom she brings warmth, fun and empathy. Natasha May-Thomas (Louise) is not on stage for long but she commands it, with divine dancing and strong acting.

It’s a good production, but feels slightly lacking in its conclusion. While I’m all in favour of creative interpretation, I think in this instance I prefer the original ending, which offers us hope.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Originally written and reviewed for West End Wilma.

I was provided with press night tickets and programmes. All opinions my own.

For more creative book and theatre reviews, follow Paradise_Library on Instagram.

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