Review: Carousel

March 7, 2012 | By More

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Jonathan McGarrity as Billy and Eddie McDowell as Jigger in the Bohemians’ 2012 production of Carousel

Church Hill Theatre

Review by Thom Dibdin

Unfettered tragedy, lumps in the throat and, yes, big fat man-tears are the order of the evening in the Bohemians’ production of Carousel at the Church Hill Theatre all this week.

Which is, of course, as it should be. This is, after all, the musical which gave the world the ultimate tragic, throat-lumping, man-tear tune of all time: You’ll Never Walk Alone. Yes, that “you’ll never walk alone”: the one they sing at the Kop.

The setting is a fishing village in Maine on the eastern seaboard of the States, sometime in the mid 19th century. Here, Rogers and Hammerstein’s follow-up to Oklahoma!, deals with the tragic affair between young mill-worker Julie and worldly-wise carousel barker Billy.

Not that Carousel opens with any hint of what it is to come. A long and packed scene-setting introduction allows the main characters to attract the eye with the telling of the back-story in which Julie and her pal Carrie catch Billy’s eye to the jealous intervention of carousel owner Mrs Mullen.

There is so much happening on stage that you have to applaud the company for succeeding in packing as much onto the Church Hill stage as they would at their previous residence at the King’s.

Janice Bruce’s choreography provides a surreally heightened representation of the carousel itself with stocking and suspender-clad dancers as the horses. Meanwhile, the company bustle around, creating a carnie atmosphere as children and mill-workers mingle with fairground performers.

The first meeting between Julie and Billy might be less dynamic in its movement but by this time it is the emotional dynamics which count.

Kathryn Samson is perfectly cast as the larger-than-life Mrs Mullen, trying to warn Julie and Carrie away from her carousel – and Billy – although her singing voice is not quite as big as her personality. Clare MacLean is a light-voiced Carrie, bursting to tell her pal about her own new man, the straight-up Mister Snow.

But it is the fatal pairing of Billy and Julie which really catches the eye and the ear in their courting duet of If I Loved You.

Plaything

Jonathan McGarrity is physically perfect as Billy, with a performance that gets right to the character’s arrogance and sense of bewilderment at what he unexpectedly feels for the wee lass he thought was merely a plaything.

Meanwhile Sophie Pasola triumphs as Julie. She has a lovely, lilting voice that jumps deftly around the music. And her acting performance is beautifully moderated as Julie plays her prim persona to the hilt, entrancing and drawing Billy in.

Pasola is not knowing either, but does it all with a nonchalant air of innocence and understanding, as Julie quite deliberately decides to make the mill owner sack her – for the heinous crime of being out late – and so bind her fate to that of Billy’s.

Alexandra Junginger as Nettie leads the company in June is Busting Out All Over

When the scene moves to the house of Julie’s cousin Nettie, and two months later, Rogers and Hammerstein let rip with what is an exuberant celebration of lusty romance as the whole village set about going on the first of their big summer “clambake” picnic’s on a nearby island.

It’s great stuff to work with. Nowhere more so than in the eloquently saucy lines of June is Busting Out All Over, given full meaning by Alexandra Junginger as Nettie in her big duet with Carrie.

Unfortunately the vitality and storytelling of the supporting company never reaches the peaks it did in the opening scene. The difficulties only partly stem from the size of the male chorus, who number just over a third of their female counterparts. It all feels a bit rushed and as if the company had less story to tell and more time to tell it in.

Still, once it gets back on track, the first act leaves you with delicious a sense of foreboding for what is to come. Which the second act will surely deliver in buckets as Billy throws his lot in with Eddie McDowell’s ne’er-do-well whaler, Jigger.

Tragic though that second act might be, what it needn’t be is overwrought. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that this production contains two black-hole moments of such melodramatic intensity that, as they suck you in, you feel almost obliged to leap to your feet and swoon noisily over your neighbour.

It is, however, a much, much better production than these two scenes. A production that shows that they company has subtlety and talent at its disposal. And the first of these is quickly forgotten as Nettie’s rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone rises out of Billy’s death.

There is less to say about the subsequent rising of Billy to heaven and his interrogation by Ben Jeffreys, as the Star Keeper, to decide on his fate. It feels uncomfortable as plot and the production does little to recover that.

The long ballet sequence, set 16 years later with Jennifer O’Neill as Billy and Julie’s daughter Louise, doesn’t come off with an equal amount of panache. Although O’Neill clearly puts her all into it, and there is plenty going on, it is never quite what it is supposed to be. Even the musicians in the pit – lead by MDs Simon Hanson and James McCutcheon – who had previously been so smooth of delivery begin to lack focus in their playing.

A reasonably strong production of what is, perhaps, not as great a musical it is remembered to be.

Run ends Saturday 10 March 2012

Bohemians website: www.bohemians.org.uk

ENDS

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