Carousel – Arcola Theatre


Tim Rogers and Gemma Sutton in Carousel at the Arcola Theatre, London. Picture: Roy Tan

Carousel continues at the Arcola Theatre, London, until 19 July.

Once cited by Richard Rodgers as his favourite of all his musicals, Carousel, his second major collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein II, tells the dark tale of barker Billy Bigelow, who in the course of the show is fired from his job, hits his wife, turns criminal, and kills himself, finding atonement for his actions only in the afterlife. Set in New England, the piece revolves around the intertwined stories of Bigelow’s marriage to mill worker Julie Jordan and that of Julie’s work colleague Carrie Pipperidge to fisherman Enoch Snow.

Morphic Graffiti’s excellent production creatively reimagines this milestone of musical theatre (much as Carousel itself reinvented Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom) for the more intimate setting of London’s Arcola Theatre. Luke Fredericks as director and Lee Proud as choreographer seem to avail themselves of every square inch of available floor space as well as utilising Stewart Charlesworth’s ingeniously constructed set to its full potential. The musical accompaniment is similarly re-envisioned for the smaller venue, Mark Cumberland’s beautiful orchestrations for five-piece ensemble being particularly inspired in his scoring for harp.

Tim Rogers’ standout performance as Billy Bigelow perfectly encapsulates the various aspects of the tragic hero’s complicated character – unpleasant and emotionally torn, yet self-sacrificial and ultimately reformed. His interpretation of ‘Soliloquy’, and the final reprise of ‘If I Loved You’ are truly moving. Amanda Minihan’s intimate performance of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ has an element of the ethereal as her voice soars to the song’s climax, matched only by its a cappella ensemble reprise during the graduation scene. The charismatic stage presence of Gemma Sutton and Vicki Lee Taylor ensures that they delight as Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge, respectively, and Valerie Cutko portrays a suitably strong-willed and manipulative Mrs Mullin.

While faithful to the original book, this production includes many new touches, among the more significant of which is a reworking of the pivotal moment of Bigelow’s stabbing. The shift in the time period for the show, from its original late Victorian setting to a Depression-era one, does not come across as strongly as it might have done, which is a pity given the historical coincidence of the story ending in 1945 – fittingly, the year of the musical’s premiere – under this timeframe.

Morphic Graffiti’s Carousel features impressive dance sequences (with various acrobatic gestures thrown in for good measure), rousing chorus numbers, and many poignant turns from the principals. The smaller performance space yields many artistic implications, from the brisk tempos of certain songs, to the sense among audience members of being closer to the action and hence more readily swept up in the drama. At times emotional, at times ebullient, but always entertaining, this is without doubt a must-see production.

Christopher Wiley

Readers may also be interested in:

Morphic Graffiti – A new kind of Carousel interview


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