Jun 2 2015 | By More

★★★☆☆    Visually stunning

Festival Theatre: Tue 2 – Sat 6 June 2015
Review by Susan Lowes

Opera North’s production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Carousel is a curious combination of drama, dance and song that on occasion both hits and misses the mark.

Meant to be a story about love, loss and redemption, this version feels more like a story about anger, resentment and possibly the glorification of domestic abuse.

Keith Higham (Billy Bigelow) and Gillene Butterfield (Julie Jordan). Photo: Alastair Muir

Keith Higham (Billy Bigelow) and Gillene Butterfield (Julie Jordan). Photo: Alastair Muir

Opening on a busy fairground scene, we meet the protagonists of the tale: fairground barker Billy Bigelow played by Keith Higham and millworker Julie Jordon, played by Gillene Butterfield. Among the magic of the carousel – and it really is a magical and stunningly visual set designed by Anthony Ward – Billy and Julie seemingly fall in love, losing both of their jobs in the process.

Except there’s something missing in this production; the love seems to have been lost along the way. Instead of two young people courting as the lights and music fade into the background, Higham and Butterfied seem to play the characters awkwardly as though they’re on their best behaviour. The result is a lack of chemistry that begs the question, why would either of them give up their lives to be together?

Without the initial love burning strong, the musical falters. The resentment and disillusionment of their decisions only grow with time, leading to a lazy arrogant man living with a victim of domestic abuse. There seems no obvious reason for them to have even got together, let alone stay together.

However, that’s not to say the magic is completely lost; there are some spectacular moments interspersed within this production. The parallel storyline between Carrie Pipperidge (Aoife O’Sullivan), Julie’s best friend, and Enoch Snow (Joseph Shovelton) certainly proves that. Their story is endearing and sweet and performances from O’Sullivan and Shovelton inspiring both well wishes and anxiety that they might not get their happy ending.

deliciously daring and roguish

Stuart Neal is deliciously daring and roguish as Billy’s whaler friend Jigger and Yvonne Howard is both personal and lively as Nettie Fowler, Julie’s helpful aunt. In fact, Howard’s performance of You’ll Never Walk Alone is exceptional.

Keith Higham as Billy Bigelow and Gillene Butterfield as Julie Jordan (right) with the chorus and dancers Photo: Alastair Muir

Keith Higham as Billy Bigelow and Gillene Butterfield as Julie Jordan (right) with the chorus and dancers Photo: Alastair Muir

Anthony Ward’s revolving set is vibrant and a visual treat to the senses, with Bruno Poet’s lighting design providing a striking accompaniment. None more so that the opening scene, which is bursting with vitality in a dizzying representation of life of the fairground. You can hardly blame Billy Bigelow resenting giving that up.

So too, Kay Shepherd and Kim Brandstrup choreography work marvels. The dance and ensemble scenes really stand out as a triumph. The dance scene that accompanies the song, June is Bustin’ Out All Over, is full of cheeky, charming and charismatic character and the ballet sequence with Billy and Julie’s daughter Louise, played by Beverley Grant is outstanding; expressive, fluid and full of beauty.

Flirting between different artistic mediums, the combination of dance, drama and song seems somewhat at odds, yet each are enjoyable in their own right. The same cannot be said of the flirting between predictability of the initial story and the absurdity as the story transgresses.

When Opera North’s Carousel hits the mark, it really hits the mark, but when it doesn’t, it falls considerably short – which is a shame, because there is a sense that this production could have been spectacular. However, one thing is for sure, it’ll definitely keep you entertained for almost 3 hours.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (including interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tuesday 2 – Saturday 6 June 2015
Evenings: 7.30pm, matinee Thurs and Sat: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets from:


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.