Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (which is set in 1878, but in this production is updated to 1945) premiered on Broadway in 1945, the year World War II ended and two years before Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire appeared. The Bigelow and Kowlasky marriages are both based on an sexual attraction that is somewhat animalistic; one of the differences being that Carousel’s Julie, unlike Streetcar’s Stella, isn’t aroused by violence and sees in Billy a childlike vulnerability that Stanley hasn’t really got. There is something of the Angry Young Man of the 1950s in Billy Bigelow (based on the eponymous anti-hero of Ferenc Molnar’s 1909 play Liliom) in this musical that combines domesticity with fantasy and an emotionalism that’s made all the more powerful by so much that goes unsaid.
Jeremy Lloyd Thomas’s production for Almost-Normal, featuring a young cast of predominantly Mountview graduates, is very rough around the edges. It rolls along at a brisk pace, but several crucial moments are brushed over, denying the piece its full emotional impact. The direction is fairly pedestrian with awkward transitions between scenes, the American accents are seriously dubious, and several soloists struggle to fill the small space. The reduction of the orchestral score played by a piano duo is hit and miss. There are passages of the truncated Carousel Waltz (much of which the cast vocalise acapella-style) and Louise’s Ballet that sound unrecognisable or out of tune.
There is a dreamlike atmosphere to the opening sequence as Louise (a feisty Georgia Bevis), the fifteen-year old daughter of the brief union between Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, wanders amidst the ensemble as the seedy seaside carnival springs into action. The rough-and-ready choreography by Lainie Baird and Jodie-Lee Wilde serves its purpose and is energetically performed. Rachel Stone’s functional set comprises of a doorway framed with jagged wooden strips with the titular carousel represented by a single carousel horse and piled-up wooden crates, which the lovers scramble around on, and also acts a viewing platform from the heavenly waiting room.
Sean-Paul Jenkinson is miscast as Billy Bigelow; he conveys the thuggish side of the character well, but rushes through his lines and is strained vocally, without the bad boy allure and suppressed tenderness that makes Billy something other than just a yob. At the end of ‘If I Loved You’, he and Julie kiss because they’re supposed to, rather than it being a glorious culmination of two people overwhelmed by an erotic charge that neither can quite explain. Ebony Buckle is more impressive as Julie, with her elegant bearing and flashing eyes. Her performance of the death scene is outstanding, as she cradles the dead Billy in her arms, kisses him for the final time and wavers between anger and tenderness before breaking down in despair.
In a production that relies too heavily on mugging, Iddon Jones’s Mr Snow (the fisherman intended of Julie’s best friend Carrie) is a delight when he appears in his flannel shorts and knee socks, interrupting Carrie’s (Chelsea Corfield) wedding fantasy enacted with a dust-sheet veil and dustpan-and-brush bouquet (one of the most creative touches in the show). There’s a self-deprecating charm to this mismatched pair, with Jones showcasing the finest voice in the cast.
Richard Rodgers deemed Carousel his crowning achievement, but this isn’t the most satisfying production. The 1945 setting, which surely would have hit too close to home at the time of writing, doesn’t jar with the material, but under the conservative direction ultimately feels rather superficial, as if there is a finer point to be made.