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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Barbican Theatre


  Ph: Alastair Muir

You might reasonably be of the opinion that it's hard to love a show whose hero puts more energy into beating his wife than he does into finding a job. Certainly that was my response the first time I saw Carousel. The melodic wit of Richard Rodger's music and the lyrical invention of Oscar Hammerstein – inspired by Ferenc Molnar's play Liliom – were drowned out by some deeply dodgy notions that climax with the view that it doesn't much matter if men hit their women as long as it's done with love.

But by imposing an operatic aesthetic on the musical, Jo Davies' Opera North production not only brings to the fore a wonderful score, but wraps the show's message in a bubble of opera logic. What can come across as authorial endorsement here feels more like an exploration of human frailty and flaw.

Don't get me wrong. Hammerstein's book hasn't been turned into recitative. And Billy Bigelow – played by baritone Michael Todd Simpson for this performance (on other nights by Eric Greene) – is still a heel who marries and betrays Katherine Manley's loyal and loving Julie Jordon (played Gillene Herbert on other nights). It's more that this show and it's simple but expansive staging has such a big heart at its centre it's easier to forgive the selfish bastard at its core.  

Kay Shepherd's choreography has the good fishing folk of Maine dancing with a snap only usually seen in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and the company sings "A Real Nice Clambake" with a real dose of irony – as if everyone is on the verge of throwing up. The number "You'll Never Walk Alone," which in Britain is more famous than the song deserves because Liverpool Football Club adopted it as its anthem, is delivered with an irresistible and rousing evangelical fervour. (Liverpool never had the blessing of Rodgers, who was less generous to the football supporters about the appropriation of his material than Molnar was to Rodgers about the appropriation of his play.) 

Backing up a fine leading cast are two outstanding turns by Joseph Shovelton as the pure of thought Mr Snow, and Michael Rouse as Snow's reptilian opposite Jigger, who for my money has the best message of all. It's directed at the pious Snow and is encapsulated in the all-too-short "Stonecutters Cut It on Stone," a lyric that is followed by "Woodpeckers peck it on wood. There's nothing so bad for a woman as / a man who thinks he's good."

At least it's a message that's lot more palatable than the one told by Julie to her daughter at the end of the show – that a slap delivered by a man who loves you feels like a kiss. Even with this production it's a hard sentence to follow with applause.


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