Carousel – review

"John Pfumojena’s appearance commences a perfectly measured comedic performance."
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
afridiziak ratings
Review by: Will Richards
Published: Monday 16th, August 2021, 8:08pm

John Pfumojena and Christina Modestou as Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson
John Pfumojena and Christina Modestou as Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson

Even in the midst of an August rainstorm, there are few performance spaces that rival the intrinsic charm and character of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. A fitting venue, therefore, for my own eager post-shutdown return to live theatre. Fitting too that this production of Carousel be performed under the ever-menacing gloom of the Great British weather. As, in his reworking of the Rogers & Hammerstein’s original, director Timothy Sheader has relocated the action from the American east coast to an unspecified seaside town in England. Tom Scutt’s stripped down set and the cast’s array of British regional accents give little more away location-wise, but the woollen flat-capped brass band who lead the show’s orchestration imply a northern English setting.

After a series of intricately choreographed emotional crescendos, the simplicity of the culminating rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone – led by Joanna Riding as Nettie Fowler – is a particularly stirring finale.

 Despite its Broadway musical routes, those familiar with Carousel are unlikely to expect much in the way of feel-good froth from this production. Looming themes of domestic violence, toxic masculinity, and sexual assault are signposted from the outset through an electric opening dance number from the ensemble cast. And, soon after, we are introduced to Julie Jordan (Carly Bawden) as she meets and is drawn quickly into an abusive relationship with Billy Bigelow (Declan Bennet).

June is Bustin' Out. The Company of Carousel at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson
June is Bustin’ Out. The Company of Carousel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson

Bennet is an interesting casting choice as Billy Bigelow. His presence never quite reaches the brutish, domineering persona one might expect from the role. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the resulting sense is that Bigelow himself is playing up to a character he doesn’t naturally embody. Whilst by no means a sympathetic portrayal, Bennet’s Bigelow is vulnerable and unsure even at the height of his fury and aggression. This departure from theatrical archetype may be a more realistic representation of real world domestic abuse, but comes at the expense of dramatic tension and ferocity in the show’s dramatic peaks.

Drew McOnie’s choreography is a clear highlight. At once affecting, visually spectacular, and performed with unbelievable precision by a spirited ensemble cast. In fact, it was often in the intervals of dialogue between group songs and dance numbers that energy most noticeably lagged. In the absence of elaborate set design, the atmosphere had a tendency to dissipate into the London sky as the company cleared the stage.

Blow High, Blow Low. The Company of Carousel at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson
Blow High, Blow Low. The Company of Carousel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson

Light relief comes in the form of John Pfumojena’s Enoch Snow. Pfumojena’s appearance midway through the first act commences a perfectly measured comedic performance. He remains a likeable and entertaining presence throughout, without ever undermining the show’s more serious moments. As Bigelow and others depict unflinching violent misogyny, Pfumojena’s Snow offers a light satirical swipe at capitalist patriarchy. Christina Modestou as Carrie Pipperidge and Craig Armstrong as Jigger Craigin (understudy cover) both shine in their supporting roles.

As the clouds above Regents Park finally let rip, and the audience rustled reluctantly into our waterproof ponchos, the second act got underway. From this point the hitherto disparate performance strands (drama, music and dance) start to gel more consistently, even as the plot transcends celestial dimensions. 

After a series of intricately choreographed emotional crescendos, the simplicity of the culminating rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone – led by Joanna Riding as Nettie Fowler – is a particularly stirring finale.

A Real Nice Clam Bake. The Company of Carousel at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson
A Real Nice Clam Bake. The Company of Carousel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson
NEED TO KNOW: Carousel is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 25 September 2021 | Find Out More / Book Tickets

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Three
Even in the midst of an August rainstorm, there are few performance spaces that rival the intrinsic charm and character of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. A fitting venue, therefore, for my own eager post-shutdown return to live theatre. Fitting too that this production...carousel