THEATRE REVIEW: Carousel starring Declan Bennett, Carly Bawden & Joanna Riding at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2

WHEN?: Monday 2 August 2021, opens 9 August, booking until 25 September 2021

RUNTIME: 150 minutes (including 20-minute interval)

Song You’ll Never Walk Alone features here and has transcended its origins to be a favourite on the football terraces as well as last year topping the charts as a riposte to coronavirus.

  • Read on for reasons including how Riding makes a triumphant return to a show she won an Olivier for in 1993

Carousel is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 follow up to Oklahoma! and tells the story of 19th century carousel barker Billy Bigelow whose romance with millworker Julie Jordan comes at the price of both their jobs.

Walk is sung by Riding’s (The Girls, Phoenix Theatre) Nettie who takes in Carly Bawden’s (wonder.land, National Theatre) Julie after Billy participates in a robbery to provide for their unborn child that goes tragically wrong.

The show’s best moments are when Riding leads the cast during a boisterous June Is Burstin’ Out All Over, which reminds of some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best loved work, and Walk, which to these ears sounds quite different to the tunes for which the pair are renowned. Christina Modestou provided some much needed comic relief as Julie’s best friend coupled with some brilliant singing.

We’ve remarked previously about the strength of Bawden (McQueen, Theatre Royal Haymarket, pictured left above) and her If I Loved You is sung beautifully here and gives us a sense of why she might fall under the spell of Declan Bennett’s (Kiss Of The Spiderwoman, Menier) Bigelow, pictured right above.

But one of the reasons we liked Carousel far less than we hoped we might is that the domestic violence theme makes it difficult to understand what Julie sees in Billy. We’ve seen Bennett many times previously and he’s always reliable but his character flaws are too great for him here to be a protagonist one has much time for.

Light rain during the 2nd half at this open air venue adds to the other-worldly atmospherics as Billy’s life on earth is reckoned with by a female force which after his death suggests he goes down to speak with those he has wronged there.

We’ve not seen this musical or the film of it before but have read that the ending here has been tweaked to be more female-friendly but for us it wasn’t quite enough to convince us of the enduring appeal of this show.

Drew McOnie’s choreography is cheeky and effervescent during the show’s opening but we found the modern ballet interlude towards its close occasionally awkward.

In 1999 Time named Carousel best musical of the 20th century but on this showing we’d struggle with the evidence to back up that honour. It’s the female characters we most enjoyed here but we felt that despite the tweaks the storytelling didn’t quite transport us as much as we’d hoped.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Tickets
  • Have you seen any of these shows? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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