Carousel: Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
- Credit: Johan Persson.
Perhaps it was the constant drizzle or the northern accents and brown patched costumes, but the prevailing mood of this Rodgers and Hammerstein revival was one of dourness.
Not that Timothy Sheader's atmospheric production didn't mine the rich seam of human emotion in this tale of love and death among poverty-stricken fisherfolk.
But if musical theatre is a balance of light and shade, this one erred in the shadows. With themes of domestic violence and female oppression - and design, direction and chorography all striving not to prettify these tough lives - feelgood it ain't.
When factory worker Julie Jordan falls for rogueish fairground barker Billy Bigelow they both lose their jobs, and their marriage soon feels the strain of poverty. Past productions have pleaded class disenfranchisement as mitigation for Billy being free with his fists, but Sheader and co go full bore on the toxic masculinity and #Metoo overtones, with accompanying hip-thrusts, shirt tearing, and neck twisting choreography.
With his dreams of domestic bliss and business ambition, John Pfumojena's delightfully quirky Enoch Snow endures the mockery of Jigger and his brutish mates as a man who wants to be good. But his touchingly funny interchanges with Christina Modestou's adorably naive Carrie Pipperidge offer an alternative to this harsh gender balance.
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While Carly Bawden intensely captures the burden of Julie's love, and Declan Bennett is a charismatic and conflicted Billy, it is Joanna Riding's salty survivor Nettie who has the best tunes. Transposing New England to Northern England mostly works, except that June is Busting Out All Over and A Real Nice Clam Bake are such American sentiments that singing them in a Yorkshire accent feels like one of those drama school exercises - however Riding styles it out with aplomb.
To a Carousel newbie, the expressionistic ending as Billy has to answer for his violence before a choir of female angels, and observe his 16-year-old daughter's tribulations, feels dramatically clumsy.
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But who could argue with a final uplifting full cast rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone to send us out into the damp night with a glimmer of cheer? 3/4 stars.