CAROUSEL – Arcola Theatre

GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES GOES ROUND AND ROUND THIS RICKETY BUT FUN CAROUSEL

If you have never been to the Arcola, imagine the Donmar’s hip cousin; a small and intimate theatre, but with its skirt hitched to reveal even more girders, sheet wood and brick. A rougher venue; smokey and a little too hot for its own good. So too is Luke Frederick’s production of this golden age classic. It is a sweaty and ruffled production which throws a enjoyable but wobbly punch.

We begin with the young Julie and Carrie thrown out of the Carousel and we end with them crying up over their children’s graduation. Carrie draped in furs, husband at her side, and Julie alone, the ghost of her roguish husband watching from the great Carousel in the sky.

This is a tiny production, allowing you to feel the whip of air and a lick of perspiration as dancer after dancer flies past. But however much it got your heart beating, my eyes were increasingly drawn towards the many slips, trips and sloppy steps. Some of the numbers are hit and miss; many a gaggle of limbs, but some, like June is Bustin’ Out All Over, burst from the stage with a tight energy. It is joyful peril as the performers almost spill onto the front row. These instances of classic choreography are refreshing but lost amongst clumsier, stranger numbers.

Where the dancing slips, the performances catch it. Vicki Lee Taylor vocally steals the evening as Carrie; a joy to behold sat only three feet away. Both her performance, and Gemma Sutton’s as Julie, are given a raw and emotional boost by the lack of amplification and the small band. Amanda Minihan as a more raucous Nettie Fowle also shines in this respect. It is strange to hear a musical completely without electrical aid, but at such proximity it forces you into goosebumps. However, as Billy Bigelow, Tim Rogers quickly drags you out of them again as his voice and performance are strained a little too far.

Luke Frederick has crafted some lovely comic moments which dirties the show up a bit and is duly rewarded with big laughs. Its issue is its clunky delivery. The set is a mess which requires loud assembly and wheeling around to little effect. The result, combined with a bland turn from Tim Rogers, is a taming of what could be some really tender moments in between the guffaws.

A rough, saucy production, stitched together laughs but with frayed edges.

– LUKE JONES

Rating: three 3 Meece Rating

At the Arcola Theatre until 19th July. Box Office: 020 7503 1646

Presented by arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe

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