Theatre Review: Carousel, 5 October, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

7 Oct

This week Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre hosts one of its most sumptuous productions of the season as Rogers and Hamerstein’s classic Carousel takes to the stage.

Led from behind by Lesley Garrett in the role of the bustling, resourceful and fun-loving Nettie Fowler this truly is a first class production worthy of its West End credentials. It tells the story of Julie Jordan, the penniless New England mill-worker who becomes involved with merry-go-round barker and all round bad boy Billy Bigelow.

While her best friend Carrie opts for the safe option choosing enterprising and reliable fisherman Enoch Snow, Julie sacrifices her job and respectability to loiter around the deserted fairground with Bigelow. The influence of falling cherry blossom and the ocean-side stars lead them both to wondering how it would be if they let themselves fall in love.

Visually this production ticks all the right boxes. The principle performances are note perfect and dominating with particular credit due to Lauren Hood in the role of the lovable and naïve Carrie Pipperidge. Garrett owns the stage with her verve and energy bearing testimony to her position as “the nation’s favourite soprano” and the atmosphere in the auditorium was electrified by her powerful rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was truly moving.

Inspired choreography and innovative stagecraft also bring the musical to life combining the Mary Poppinsesque scenery of golden age Holywood with cutting edge special effects. The opening carousel illusion is particularly clever.

Despite all the spectacle however it is difficult to resist a sense of bitter disappointment in the writing. Rodgers and Hammerstein are after all the duo who brought us Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music, productions with heartfelt genuine stories at their core. In comparison Carousel is all glitz and no substance. A lack of character development and sophisticated plot leave the musical stumbling through a two and a half hour run with little structure.

At the end of the day though this is musical theatre and allowances must be made for neat endings and unexplained changes of heart. Forget dramatic irony and story-telling excellence. Carousel is all about the razzle dazzle and this it delivers in spades.

Review by Katie Smyth

Until Saturday 10 October

Find out more about Carousel at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre website.

Edit on 8 September: Title changed from ‘King’s Theatre’ to ‘Festival Theatre’

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