Carousel – Opera North at the London Barbican Theatre

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After my taster last week, I got to see the full production of Opera North’s version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. As I mentioned in that post, I knew several of the tunes but had never seen the show or the film version. Was it to be a musical that should be consigned as a period piece or would it still be relevant to the 21st Century?

Having done some research prior to seeing the show, my interest was piqued by other critics and writers saying how they felt this was an opera rather than a musical. I was also intrigued as several friends had rather disparaging remarks to make about the show in the versions they’ve seen over the years. Would I be enamoured, pleased to have seen it but not crazy about it, or regretting I’d made the journey to the Barbican?

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia were in the orchestra pit accompanying and their exquisite playing set the scene as it starts with a wonderful balletic opening where we are introduced to the world of Carousel and its protagonist Billy Bigelow. The eponymous carousel is cleverly created before us and this spectacular opening captivated me into this world.

The Cleverly Created Carousel

This show also has another “wow factor” and that’s the size of the cast, it is huge! I really felt Opera North were pulling out all the stops to make this production feel definitive. It certainly helps to create the operatic feel to the piece.

Michael Todd Simpson was Billy Bigelow and he really gave this character light and darkness. I’m still not sure what to make of this character, is he just a thug, or is he a product of his circumstances? His journey to redemption is certainly bumpy and laden with pitfalls. Is the physical violence he issues an allegory for the way we often inflict hurt on those we love the most? I felt he was portrayed as a broken man and felt sympathy for him, despite his foolish actions. Rarely does a musical or opera get me pondering and thinking about it as much as this has. The domestic violence is not a comfortable issue to be confronted with.

Katherine Manley as his long-suffering wife Julie gave her character an inner resolve and strength which I think complemented Billy’s aggression. Hers is a tragic character but I never sensed hopelessness in her.

Sarah Tynan gave an uplifting performance as Carrie Pipperidge the friend and confidant of Julie and even though their lives go on different trajectories their friendship continues.

Joseph Shovelton was the comic relief in Enoch Snow, but again this character has hidden depths and is a necessary contrast to Billy.

Their voices were superb and it was lovely to hear a cast fill the theatre with no need for amplification.

Act 2 contains a beautiful ballet piece stunningly performed by Beverly Grant and Simon Jaymes.

So as you may well ascertain, I loved it. I really think it does deserve the title of “classic”, I found the story dramatically engaging, the score is beautiful and the way it combines, opera, ballet and musical theatre really makes it a special production.

It’s best known for the anthemic song You’ll Never Walk Alone, and obviously that song has much emotional baggage for many, but as the cast sing it at the end, I couldn’t help but get an emotional tingle down my spine as it brings this story to its conclusion. It was one of those moments in theatre that I know I’ll remember for a long time.

It’s only on for a short run in London, again we’re being shown that London is not the only place where theatre is creatively being made in the UK. If you’ve never seen Carousel, go and catch this production, the director Jo Davies is to be congratulated as I can’t imagine it being done any better.

STARS : * * * *


One thought on “Carousel – Opera North at the London Barbican Theatre

  1. Pingback: 2012 – Theatrical Highs (and one low point) | Theatre Thoughts Blog

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