ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
by Sebastian King
Billy Bigelow (Michael Todd Simpson) is a carousel ‘barker’ who falls in love with mill-worker Julie Jordan (Katherine Manley) when she visits the fair one evening with her friend Carrie Pipperidge (Sarah Tynan). Because of their relationship, they both lose their jobs, and are forced to live with Julie’s cousin Nettie (Yvonne Howard), and Billy becomes violent towards Julie. When she becomes pregnant, Billy decides to take part in a robbery in order to help provide for his unborn child, but when it goes wrong, he stabs himself. In Heaven’s backyard, he is greeted by the mysterious Starkeeper (John Woodvine) who gives him the opportunity to return to Earth in order to try to make things right.
There is no doubt that this production sounds beautiful. Under James Holmes’s direction, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia tackle the rich score with energy and verve, and in the Barbican’s auditorium it sounds sumptuous. The songs are sung exquisitely, with Julie and Billy’s duet ‘If I Loved You’, and Julie’s Act 2 ‘What’s the Use of Wond’rin’ standing out in particular. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ positively soars in Yvonne Howard’s rendition, as Nettie tries to comfort and support the recently bereaved Julie.
In his notes for the programme, Opera North General Director Richard Mantle writes that this production is an opportunity for audiences to hear the show ‘performed by singers who move readily between the worlds of opera, operetta and musicals’, and herein lies the production’s chief problem. The principles are singers first and foremost: acting seems to have been something of an afterthought in this production, and as a result, there is a lack of emotional investment in the characters. The songs may sound lovely, but they do not move in the way that they undoubtedly have the potential to do, and this is a real shame.
In its last West End incarnation (at the Savoy Theatre in 2008, in a production featuring Leslie Garrett as Nettie), the eponymous carousel was represented purely by projection. The creative team of this production that includes video designer AndrzejGoulding, tease us with this suggestion, along with some clever choreography from Kay Shepherd, before the cast enter carrying genuine carousel horses, creating a stunning visual spectacle. In fact, the whole of Anthony Ward’s set is an absolute triumph, featuring a towering tree at its centre and festoon lights hanging across a starlit sky, complemented perfectly by Bruno Poet’s creative lighting.
It’s always a joy to hear a classic musical performed to such a high standard, with such accomplished musicians and singers. There’s also plenty to see, thanks to the design and choreography, and the fact that we are blessed with such a large cast (the production engages over 40 actors at each performance). However, unfortunately that magical ingredient which brings it all together, and makes a good show a great one was sadly lacking. Opera North’s singers and dancers are certainly stunning, but this production misses the ‘triple threats’ of the West End.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.