For most people, the image of a fairground is nostalgic, perhaps conjuring up fond childhood memories of candy floss and laughter amongst the galloping horses…
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel is not quite as happy. Adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, the musical looks at love, loss and regret. It also deals with desperation and domestic violence, themes that have sadly been prevalent during the last year.
These themes still resonate with a modern audience, yet this adaptation brings something new to the traditional tale, choosing to focus on the women left behind with the effects. It’s a powerful concept, but doesn’t quite deliver.
Part of the story is told through dance; to those of us who know the story it is beautiful, with a subtle brilliance that speaks volumes. For spectators new to Carousel, the power of its message is lost. By changing the ending, we also lose some of the original magic.
After his death, Billy (Declan Bennett) seeks redemption, desperate to see his teenage daughter who he never met; instead we see him fail yet again, his repentance almost non-existent. It’s a sad, albeit realistic, message, but slightly confusing and unsatisfactory. Without Billy’s redemption, Julie is denied closure after years of suffering.
In fact the whole of Act II seems underwhelming, which is a shame after such a powerful first act. It’s much shorter, but a lot happens, and these events feel somewhat diluted as there isn’t enough time for it to resonate.
That said, Carousel has a fantastic cast, with several actors switching roles due to the continued effects of COVID-19. Singing, acting and dancing are phenomenal.
Charlotte Riby is excellent as Mrs Mullin, providing us with humour, but also a deeper understanding of Billy’s character. The relationship between Julie (Carly Bawden) and Billy is both tender and tragic, but their chemistry feels genuine in the touching moments. Joanna Riding returns to the musical, this time as Nettie – a character to whom she brings warmth, fun and empathy. Natasha May-Thomas (Louise) is not on stage for long but she commands it, with divine dancing and strong acting.
It’s a good production, but feels slightly lacking in its conclusion. While I’m all in favour of creative interpretation, I think in this instance I prefer the original ending, which offers us hope.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes