The classic musical has been refreshed and updated in a new production at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, directed by Timothy Sheader.
Carousel is a tricky musical to stage in the present day. The story and relationships that it presents are not just extremely outdated but actually pretty unpleasant to watch – seeing the toxic masculinity exhibited by the male leads, and the way it’s largely accepted by the female characters feels uncomfortable, especially coming out of a lockdown where we know that levels of domestic violence have been on the rise. Without wanting to give away spoilers, there are some tweaks to the closing scenes of the show which attempt to address this issue, which are most welcome.
From a production perspective, this is an excellent new staging of Carousel. Those familiar with the musical will be aware that the songs are excellent, and the orchestration here really works well. There’s a move away from strings towards a brass band, which is a perfect fit given the events now unfold in a northern seaside town. The songs are perfectly delivered – the show’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, is sung beautifully at the most heartbreaking moment, delivering a real emotional punch.
Shows at the Open Air Theatre often look arresting and this is no exception – it’s a visually-striking performance. The lighting is effective, especially as day turns to night in the venue, and Drew McOnie’s choreography is, as always, superb. There’s a muscularity to it which reflects the labours of the townsfolk and the sailors who visit; there are lighter and more humorous moments, too.
There are plenty of solid performances from our actors as well. We caught Declan Bennett a couple of years ago in the Soho Theatre’s musical The View UpStairs where he played a troubled and difficult character, and his interpretation of Carousel barker Billy is similarly complicated and unlikeable – but this works well in the context. The role also gives him ample opportunity to display his impressive vocal prowess. We warmed to, and sympathised with, Carly Bawden as Julie, who also sings beautifully; and we particularly enjoyed the comedy provided by Christina Modestou and John Pfumojena as Carrie and Enoch in their supporting roles.
We were thoroughly impressed by our evening with Carousel. There’s a problematic storyline at its core, but this new production makes a decent hand of addressing the issues it presents; and it all looks and sounds wonderful. It’s a shame we’re having such a lacklustre summer, as a warm and dry evening at the Open Air Theatre can be something quite magical. If you’re able to find a night where the rain holds off, we’d recommend heading down to Regent’s Park to enjoy this theatrical treat.
GAY TIMES gives Carousel – 4/5
More information can be found here.