Gemma Sutton (Julie Jordan)
Tim Rogers (Billy Bigelow) and Gemma Sutton (Julie Jordan)
Vicki Lee Taylor (Carrie Pipperidge, centre)
One of the many things this vibrant adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Carousel’ gets absolutely right is the allure of the circus. In the opening scene performers weave around each other, blowing flames and contorting their bodies. Ingeniously staged and choreographed, it’s a mysterious netherworld beckoning young Maine millworker Julie Jordan into the arms of baker Billy Bigelow.
Shunting the story forward a few decades from the 1870s to the Great Depression-stricken 1930s, Morphic Graffiti theatre company have set Jordan (Gemma Sutton) and Bigelow’s (Tim Rogers) doomed love affair against a backdrop of huge social change, with World War II looming on the horizon. It adds an even more melancholic air to Hammerstein’s already troubled tale of two people trapped by the prejudice of older ways.
It’s also an incredibly physical show, with choreographer Lee Proud propelling scenes along with raucous, sinewy and sensual routines that steam up the theatre. Director Luke Fredericks keeps the sexual tension simmering away while stirring in a welcome dollop of humour: Vicki Lee Taylor is scene-stealingly hilarious as Jordan’s preening best friend Carrie Pipperidge.
Rogers’s believably frustrated Bigelow clings angrily to his outsider status while showing flashes of tenderness during the touching ‘Soliloquy’. And he and Sutton are wonderfully tentative and uncertain in their wistful opening duet ‘If I Loved You’. Bigelow’s violence towards Jordan is one of the most troubling aspects of ‘Carousel’. But Fredericks never even remotely romanticises the wife-beating on stage. Bigelow’s literally heaven-set quest for redemption in the second half feels absolutely necessary.
In the end, it’s the sheer humanity and big-heartedness of this production that carries you along with it. From a joyfully cheeky ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ to a tear-inducing reprise of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the supremely talented ensemble cast hit all the right notes. You’ll be far from dry eyed as you step off this ‘Carousel’.