“Carousel” at the Arcola Theatre

A favourite musical for many, a new production of Carousel opened at the Arcola Theatre last night. Making the most of this intimate venue, with astounding up-close choreography, this is a high energy affair that does wonders to work the big scale of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece within a small space.

Director Luke Fredericks has a clear grasp of the fantasy within Carousel. The overture is used to establish the fairytale atmosphere with an interesting air of danger surrounding a trip to the fairground. Let’s be honest, the love story of “bad un” Billy Bigelow and the innocent Julie isn’t that believable, so adding a surreal touch is clever, especially for later scenes set in the ‘backyard of heaven’.

Tim Rogers as Billy Bigelow and Gemma Sutton as Julie Jordan in CAROUSEL. Photo Credit QNQ Creative
Tim Rogers and Gemma Sutton

As Billy and Julie, Tim Rogers and Gemma Sutton seemed nervous at first but their acting was strong throughout. No easy task when you consider how many of the morals within Carousel make their characters unhappy ones for a modern audience. Rogers’ manages to make the vicious Billy sympathetic and Sutton insures Julie’s martyrdom is moving.

Joining them in romance, Vicki Lee Taylor and Joel Montague have a jollier time as Carrie Pipperidge and Mr Snow. Their sweetness doesn’t cloy and the humour is well developed. When The Children Are Asleep is a highlight, with the odiferous sailor Snow washing those fishes right out of his hair on stage. The whole ensemble is incredibly hard working. Special mention for Amanda Minihan’s spirited Nettie and a lusty rendition of June Is Bustin’ Out All Over.

Nettie’s raunchy appeal is matched at several points by earthy touches in Fredericks’ production. I normally quite fancy the clambake in Carousel – not so much this time as it seems to make everyone sick – but I can see the point of bringing the show down to earth a little. Similarly Richard Kent’s villainous Jigger makes an impression with a knowing delivery of his character.

Best of all is Lee Proud’s choreography, with a stirring combative streak and a use of circus skills that is inspired. So close is the action you might feel a little nervous if you are on the front row. Rest easy with the wonderful score, which soars under Andrew Corcoran’s musical direction. Here the coup is the presence of a harpist, squeezed onto a platform above the action, sure to please Carousel connoisseurs.

Until 19July 2014

www.arcolatheatre.com

Photo by QNQ Creative

Written 24 June 2014 for The London Magazine

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