Review – Carousel

Centre Alfie Boe (Billy Bigelow) and Company, photo Tristram Kenton

The new production of Carousel at the London Coliseum is described as semi-staged. But don’t let that concern you. Aside from lacking the rather showy elements of West End scenery, this is a full-blown piece of theatre with choreography, costume and great use of a huge revolve which comprises the greater part of the set.

Added to this comes the element of scale. The huge stage is filled by a huge cast and the pit by a huge orchestra – the likes of which are never scene in conventional musical theatre. The brilliant Carousel Waltz has never sounded better. And the whole overture is used to tell the story in reverse, culminating in a brilliant evocation of a carousel with the cast riding on lit-up letters spelling-out the name Carousel in the form of horses as the revolve spins them round. I was hooked immediately.

Star casting is at least some of the attraction and both Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins deliver the goods. Fortunately Alfie’s suspect wig which you may have seen in photos of earlier reviews has been ditched. He captures the essence of Billy Bigelow showing him to be quick tempered, moody, but also fraught with genuine concern for his family. Katherine Jenkins is reaching into new territory with this show and brings an innocence and warmth to the part of Julie Jordan and we can easily see why she falls for the unsuitable and unstable Billy. Her singing voice is, of course, well known, but for me sits uneasily with the character she’s playing. It’s big, confident and grown-up and perhaps lacks that sense of innocence she captures in the dialogue scenes.

Brenda Edwards is immediately commanding as Nettie Fowler and she makes the most of getting the best tunes – June is Bustin’ Out All Over and the iconic You’ll Never Walk Alone. Receiving star billing as the star keeper, despite not having to start work until about 9.30pm, is Nicholas Lyndhurst. And there was a palpable feeling of warmth and love for him from the audience when he appeared. I guess for many of a certain age he’ll always be young Rodney.

There is a downside, though, to the scale of the production. Grand though the music and staging are, I don’t think the production succeeds entirely in capturing the necessary intimacy needed for Billy’s death to really pull at the heart strings. I can’t fault the performances so can only think the cavernous space of the Coliseum just doesn’t suit the moment.

One final comment for anyone thinking of booking – the view from the cheaper seats in the top balcony is very good. Alas, the same cannot be said for the seats themselves which take the form of a sort of bus-stop style bench with armrests. You’ll really find yourself just perching on the tiny seat cushion, which is fine if you’re waiting 10 minutes for a bus but not at all comfortable an hour and a quarter into Act One!

Review – Don Juan in Soho

It has been about ten years since Don Juan in Soho was seen in the West End, and it’s now revived with David Tennant as the titular character, and Adrian Scarborough as his bumbling sidekick.

Tennant’s strength is his ability to deliver fast paced and lengthy passages of dialogue with clarity and emotion. He is as charming and emotive as he is vile and dangerous in the role of Don Juan. Scarborough is a comic genius, and manages to create a perfect space for Tennant’s Juan to thrive, whilst allowing an element of humanity to seep through.

David Tennant as Don Juan

The show is, if course, coarse, crude and overly sexualised, with an aim to gently shock the audience, and force them into fits of awkward giggles. This is no mean feat in 21st Century Theatreland, where audiences are hardened somewhat to the sex, sexuality and the various other deviances of Don Juan. This is not a show to take your Grandmother to, unless she’s particularly keen on this kind of thing!

The set is simple, the staging effective and the occasional music and dance numbers (this being a play with the occasional songs, rather than a completely straight play) provide some theatrical light relief to the often difficult themes that run through it. Debauchery and delight may appear to be Don Juan in Soho’s focus, but running beneath that is a current of intense social commentary, a sense of huge injustice and inequality and how can a human, with a sense of an ending, decide whether to indulge their selfish desires or work for the greater good?

Large sections of the play have been updated to be even more relevant in today’s society – referencing vlogging and current affairs. In fact, I am told that potentially every night, should a particularly brilliant news story appear, Don Juan’s big speech can be amended to comment in up to the minute events. This is no mean feat for the writer (Patrick Marber, who also directs this production), and for Tennant who must learn new lines and deliver them every night. However, this kind of finger on the pulse performance allows the audiences to roar with laughter every night, a perfect satire on a world in turmoil.

Don Juan in Soho runs at the Wyndham’s theatre in London’s West End until 10th June 2017.