Perhaps it’s appropriate that as the football World Cup kicks off, Chichester Festival Theatre chooses to revive Carousel, the musical containing “You'll Never Walk Alone”, the ultimate football anthem.
This is a piece of musical theatre that divides opinion: there are those who think of it as an appalling piece of musical fluff, with an old-fashioned attitude to women and domestic violence. On the other hand, there are those who think that is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpieces; a powerful and compelling piece of musical theatre.
Personally, I sit halfway between the two: I find it one of the least appealing examples of their works, with a plot that is ludicrous, even by the standards of a genre used to straining credulity. But I recognise there some numbers of the highest class – notably Bill’s soliloquy at the end of Act 1.
Angus Jackson's production doesn’t start promisingly: the opening overture and ballet sequence seem to drag on interminably and once the dialogue starts the mikes appear to be on such a volume that it sounds like the actors are auditioning to be platform announcers at Clapham Junction.
Norman Bowman as Bill also seems to start slowly although he warms to the part, reaching a peak during the soliloquy number. But for a character whose sexual magnetism is commented on several times, he doesn’t exude any of the charismatic swagger that we'd expect to see. But Harriet Shore's Julie Jordan is even less appealing: there’s little sign of the sassy young woman that intrigues him and her singing voice is by far the weakest of the principals.
The honours (both acting and singing) are stolen by Lydia Griffiths, who’s a captivating Carrie Pipperidge: She’s well supported by Robert Irons as Enoch Snow, her husband with the grand ideas. Jacqui Dubois’ Nettie also offers strong vocal support and there's some good ensemble work but this is not a production that ever really catches fire.
Carousel looks rather dated these days: there's no doubting the quality of the score and the lyrics but it would take an exceptional company to bring them to life. There are some qualities in this production but a good musical should make you feel like singing and dancing on the way home; this palpably didn't. It was professional, pleasant but ultimately unadventurous.