London Coliseum: Closes 13th May 2017
I hadn’t read any reviews prior to seeing Carousel at the London Coliseum, although it surprises me to now discover that there are some very mixed thoughts about the English National Opera’s delivery of the show. The words ‘semi-staged’ are picked up frequently, however I am not entirely sure why.
In my opinion it was a beautiful piece of theatre which was very well executed. The acting, dance numbers, costumes and sets were enjoyable and convincing; I was particularly interested in the series of paintings that were projected onto a sail at the back of the stage as a traditional yet effective way of creating relatively simple backdrops which really set the scene and carried the audience fluidly through the story.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is rather unique because it is incredibly beautiful in its aesthetic, which came across just as much in this recent staged version as it did in the 1956 film adaptation, as I am sure it did in its original staging. However this beauty, along with the generally gentle and light-hearted songs masks a melancholy story of violence, suicide, loss, shame, and bullying. If it wasn’t for the comedic elements of the characters Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow and the sweet naivety of Julie Jordan, I think the show would be considerably harder to watch. Thankfully this adaptation has remained close to the original, which I think is refreshing in a round-about way. Carousel was written in what was known as ‘The Golden Age of musicals’: a time of uplifting, good spirited material that was generally very tame. I was reminded of Hammerstein’s earlier work Showboat, for the general feel of the show. Despite the serious themes that Carousel explores, it doesn’t feel too heavily weighted because these themes are masked heavily by uplifting songs and tap dances. The vibrant candy colours give an almost much-to-good to be true feel. One could say that the whole of act one is a build up to the impending doom in the second act, which still comes as a rather alarming surprise.
Katherine Jenkins communicated the child-like naivety and underlying vulnerability to the otherwise confident character Julie Jordan very well and I thoroughly enjoyed her moments on stage, particularly her delivery of the song ‘What’s the Use of Wond’rin’?’ in act two. Unfortunately Alfie Boe was unable to play the role of Billy Bigelow due to illness; however his cover Will Barratt gave an impressive and captivating performance, and his chemistry with Katherine was wonderful. It was as though he was well seasoned in the role. Alex Young gave Carrie Pipperidge such life; you couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for this girl who is hopelessly in love with Enoch Snow, a rather bleak and slightly boring man who has high ambitions for his fishing trade.
I was particularly impressed with the incredible 42 piece orchestra, whose soaring sounds filled the auditorium. I must mention that the orchestra was conducted by David Charles Abell, who I have admired for his evident and infectious energy and passion since he conducted the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts of Les Miserables in 1995 and 2010. The orchestra pit was raised; a wonderful addition that made the whole experience of seeing a classical production in such a highly decorative theatre, feel very traditional. It was like going back in time, and in that sense, I was very much immersed in the period of the production.
If you are looking to see a show that epitomises the charm of the classic musical, Carousel is highly recommendable.