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Carousel (London Coliseum)

April 26, 2017

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 22nd April 2017)

In that peculiar circular way of theatre, a classic musical returns to light operatic roots. The poster may read “semi-staged,” but there is nothing skimped in this luscious presentation that has the orchestra spilling into the boxes either side of the pit. Indeed, a few items of scenery aside, it is every bit as lavish – if not more so – than the definitive 1990s National Theatre production.

A tragic love story with one generation repeating the errors of the previous one, the music is timeless, the themes still relevant today. From the moment the orchestra pauses, designer Josh Rhodes carousel assembles and that magical swooping “DUH, duh duh duh” waltz rings out, it all comes alive once more.

If director Lonny Price is a little less creative in the first half than the second, the magic of act two’s ballet, outstandingly danced by Amy Everett (Louise) and ensemble, the painful death scene and a remarkable “Young Louise” (un-credited) are highlights.

Perhaps the failings of the first half are in adapting to the peculiar casting of Alfie Boe (Billy) and Katherine Jenkins (Julie) as the leading young lovers. Both considerably older than the characters as written, their success is hard-won.

Boe’s central “Soliloquy” is fatally flawed simply because he is clearly a man who knows, rather than a youngster examining his responsibilities for the first time. Fortunately, as time passes, he grows into the role and his final scene, hopefully standing in the light of redemption, and exiting defeated are evidence of both acting ability and director’s confidence in giving us this ending.

Jenkins is in fine voice, but with her lack of musical theatre experience still struggles to act the words she is singing. “If I Loved You” sounded beautiful, but lacked the internal dialogue in delivery. Still and again, as a mother, her acting carried her through the difficult act two scenes with some aplomb.

Far greater success came in the coupling of Gavin Spokes and Alex Young as Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge, sardine magnate and mother of nine respectively. The warmth and righteous determination of Spokes filled the theatre. A (probably sober, but still outrageous as usual) turn from Young drew huge laughs from her deft comic timing, while her questioning of friend Julie covered any Jordan character-establishing shortcomings in the early scenes.

Nice work too from Nicholas Lyndhurst as Starkeeper / Dr Seldon. A sneaky wink to the famous “chandelier” scene had him perched on a particular type of trestle ladder (and the audience giggling), but he has a surprising authority when required, as well as a sound grasp of humanity at the end.

Brenda Edwards (Nettie Fowler) gets the “big” number, but sadly was inaudible at times and mistook a hymn for a pop number in the final bar. Fairing better in other supporting roles were Susan Kyd’s calculated Mrs Mullin, Derek Hagen’s repellent Jigger Craigin, Jaye Bryce as the quiet but sure Heavenly Friend and a neat character turn from Martyn Ellis as local worthy Mr Boscombe.

The vast ensemble and ENO Chorus combine to give the final lavish servings of movement and spectacle – hard to beat, and justifying the price of a stalls ticket.

This may not be the most revelatory interpretation of the show, but it’s a glorious choice of revival from Linnit, Grade and the ENO, and their third success. Here’s to the next one.


4 (over New England) stars.

  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    April 26, 2017 8:47 am

    My mum took me to see Carousel when I was seven. It was the first time I had ever cried at something that didn’t involve falling over/hurting myself etc. I didn’t even know I was crying until I looked around and saw that everyone else was crying too. It was the moment I fell in love with the theatre. So this is always a special show for me. I agree with your comments, especially about the staging – I even welled up when the imaginative presentation of the Carousel letters were revealed. I went into the show feeling that Alfie Boe was the better choice of star (I’m not a fan of Katherine Jenkins) but I confess that she won me over somewhat. It was great to hear every word that she sang (poor diction drives me nuts in the theatre). Her acting wasn’t too bad for her lack of experience and her voice just about made up for it. Totally agree about Soliloquy – I was so looking forward to this. Don’t know about your performance but, when we were there (the very first preview night) Alfie Boe maintained his pose after the applause was dying out, clearly anticipating more of an ovation. We dutifully clapped again but it was awkward. I love Alfie Boe but this wasn’t his finest moment. For me the stars of this show will always be the music, the lyrics and the emotional response of the audience.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      April 26, 2017 9:56 am

      Oh, that’s a lovely story.

      Those letters, wish I could buy them and put them in my garden, LOL.

      I honestly wasn’t bothered at all by any of the casting, and I agree, I’ve altered my opinion of Jenkins a little.

      No, Boe moved on from Soliloquy and there was no awkwardness, so obviously they’ve learned the timing since previews. In fact, I did get the impression the whole show was better than even press night.

      The show is, truly the star, though. I’ll never forget my own first encounter with the live version at the National Theatre’s press night. This did run it very close indeed.

      Thanks again for the wonderful comments,

  2. tonyloc permalink
    April 26, 2017 9:30 am

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your review of Carousel. Like you I certainly enjoyed the second half more than the first, partly due to the magnificent ballet and also Alfie Boe’s more convincing acting than in the first half. And I probably over-praised Brenda Edwards because I was prejudiced by her extremely good Mama Morton in Chicago, which was her stage debut after coming fourth in X-Factor.

    There is a very big advert for Carousel in today’s Telegraph so I guess they are having trouble filling all those seats at the Coliseum, especially at the high prices they are charging. I know this is all supposed to be raising money for ENO in their current financial difficulties but it will be a self-defeating exercise if the high prices keep punters away.

    Now I am having a serious debate with myself as to whether I should book for Young Frankenstein. What’s your advice?



    • Steve Rich permalink*
      April 26, 2017 9:57 am

      Hi Tony,

      Hoped you’d think the same as I did, glad you approved.


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