After a poor display in this year’s 2014 World Cup, England go home bowing their heads, not in shame, but in promise. Witnessing the English mentality of flippant support for yet another big competition reminds me of our subjective nature as a nation. Steven Gerrard for one reinforces what it means to be a loyal Liver Bird – and to utter the motto, 'You’ll Never Walk Alone’, words originally penned by Rodgers and Hammerstein, creators of Carousel.
Billy Bigelow, a carousel barker, brings in the punters – mainly swooning girls, but business nonetheless – as the New England state faces one of it’s biggest economic depressions – particularly in this production which throws the original book into the 30s just after the Wall Street crash. Julie Jordan, a millworker and fellow swooner, feels his arm tuck gently around her waist as they go for a spin, and of jealousy Billy is sacked. Wrestling with the idea of settling down, Billy battles with love, financial difficulty and rage. After striking Julie, she announces her pregnancy and he vows to change his ways. In a desperate bid to allow his child the upbringing he never had, and being already involved with the wrong sorts, a robbery goes pear-shaped, resulting in his imprisonment. Plunged into purgatory 15 years later, he is offered the chance to see his daughter, and attempts to steer her future in the right direction – any direction but his.
In a production presented by Morphic Graffiti I was curious as to how they would tackle the space of the Arcola. A company of promise, having received such honours as The Stage’s Top 100 highlights of 2012, fails to live up to such expectations. In such an intimate space, one was hoping for a different approach. Staging is as much of a spectacle as ever before; the set is large, moveable, fiddly and restricting to view – momentum is jolted. Nothing is left to the imagination, apart from mighty fine choreography by Lee Proud, which sees the company subtly creating the circular motion you hope to be expressed without necessarily physically having a carousel. A shout out goes to Susie Porter for her impeccable lines and racing energy. And in a space where the band is right next to you and the proximity of the actors so close that they don’t require mics, moments of raucousness during chorus scenes have to be selected carefully otherwise you are in danger of missing lyrics.
Despite these unfortunate elements, specific performances do shine through. Vicki Lee Taylor gives us a delightfully precious Carrie. Gemma Sutton’s Julie leaves us hypnotised with her incredible voice and Tim Roger adds grit to the pipes of his proud, forceful Billy.
Intimacy, when it happens, is touching. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to not bypass the truth, even in the airy-fairy world of musical theatre – especially on a smaller scale.