19 July 2014

Dazzling Carousel at the Arcola Theatre

My feeling towards musicals is still somewhat ambivalent but I was not going to miss Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel when it was on at one of my very favourite theatres, the Arcola in Dalston.

I had planned to go with friends but a mix-up meant that they went to the matinee when I was booked for the evening show. It still worked out reasonably well as we were able to meet up in a nearby pub between the two showings.

For the first time in my experience there was allocated seating but, unusually for me, I was sufficiently alert to get in early enough to get a front row seat on the far side.

That was just as well as it had received plenty of good reviews and that meant another full house. I am sure that the seats further back are fine, it's just that I do not want to try one to find out.

This was the last performance too, something of an accidental tradition of mine, so there were no second chances.

I must have seen Carousel at some time because elements of the plot were familiar but they were only thin fragments and most of it was completely new and surprising to me.

It was a lot darker than I expected. I tend to think of musicals as rom-coms with songs, which is unfair on my part as opera deals with tragedy as much as it deals with the foibles of love. There was a happy ending of sorts but it wasn't the and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after kind. Especially not for the people who were dead.

The music was as much a mystery as was the story and the only song that I recognised I did not know came from a musical, let alone this one. That song was You'll Never Walk Alone. I am more used to the staccato version sung on the Kop so it was good to hear it with its original melody and timing.

With an unknown story and unknown music it was down to the production to engage me and they did that with much aplomb. A lot of care had been put in to the detail of the production and there was always a lot more going on than was strictly needed to tell the story. The singing and acting were very good too.

But it was the dancing that made the production so dazzling. The choreography was intricate and imaginative making full use of the cast and the limited space available.

Arcola had often impressed me in the part but this was the first time that it had done so with a musical.

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