Review: Carousel, Arcola Theatre

“Fresh and alive and gay and young”

It’s kind of hard to avoid the many rave reviews that this Morphic Graffiti revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel has received so it won’t surprise those who know me that I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as were others. I have somehow managed to avoid ever seeing it before and I wonder if that made the difference – a recurring theme seems to be ‘one of the best versions I’ve ever seen’ indicating a deep seated affection for the show (much like Miss Saigon) whereas to fresh ears and eyes, the splendour of the score can’t always paper over the more questionable aspects of the book. 

There’s certainly much to appreciate in Luke Frederick’s production – the reconceptualising of a ‘big’ musical into the boutique space of the Arcola has been excellently done. Lee Proud’s choreography has a great feel for the expressive and exhilarating potential in such intimacy and Andrew Corcoran’s tight band of five create a great musical sound, especially blessed by the unmiked singing which lends a rawness and immediacy that feels entirely appropriate for the venue. I can well imagine it not having sounded quite like this before and therefore exciting those who loved it already.

But though it is well acted and beautifully sung – Gemma Sutton and Tim Rogers as leads Julie and Billy, and Vicki Lee Taylor and Joel Montague’s supporting duo Carrie and Enoch really lead by example – it still felt curiously old-fashioned to me rather than an evergreen classic. The dynamics of its gender relationships, especially in the form of Billy, feel rather questionable and this production does nothing to iron out the feeling of unease that frequently accompanies this anti-hero and how the women around him act in this world. And does the show need to be this long? I’d be tempted to trim it down some and then a bit more, and I’d probably be called heretical for my pains.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 19th July

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