Call me an old softie, but it would take a pretty poor production of Carousel, to fail to reduce me to a blubbing wreck. So I am pleased to report that Julian Woolford's excellent production is a three kleenex job which sent this reviewer's tear ducts into overdrive.

Carousel is one of the most perfectly constructed musicals ever written, weaving its magic with a seamless continuum of drama, comedy, song, dance and underscoring. This heady mix drives the story foreword relentlessly to its tragic climax and inspirational conclusion. In particular the extended second scene, with the exquisite duet, "If I Loved You" at its core, is in itself a self- contained playlet.

In twenty minutes it lays out with extraordinary beauty and sensitivity, the unlikely courtship of the innocent Julie Jordan by the brash but curiously vulnerable fairground barker, Billy Bigelow, from first meeting to loving embrace. Played here by Sam Kane and Jane Mark, both of whom are superb throughout - I was particularly impressed with Kane's mellifluous and well modulated singing voice.

Carousel is a dark story, masked by humour, Richard Rodgers luscious music and Hammerstein's sublimely poetic lyrics. Beneath the superficial joie de vivre of the dancing fisherman and the twinkling lights of the carousel, lies a piece that deals uncompromisingly with issues such as domestic violence, suicide, life after death and redemption. Such was the unlikely radicalism of the authors in 1945.

Jeremy Gladwin's spare but effective set presents a convincing picture of the New England waterside community, not least in the startling and handsome opening scene where a sleepy eyed carnival transforms into a sparkling fairground.

Wayne Sleep's choreography and musical staging (in this scene, and throughout) are exciting to watch. The second act ballet is dazzling in its simplicity and terrifically well danced by Maxine Bowers and Alan Byland.

Alongside Kane and Mark, Lynsey Britton delivers a show stopping performance as Carrie, well matched by her Mr. Snow, Richard Brightiff. Jill Pert gives an exceptional Nettie Fowler, with a beautifully affecting “You'll Never Walk Alone”, and Geoffrey Abbot is suitably psychotic as Jigger Craigin, Bigelow's Iago, and the catalyst for his downfall. A word too, for the small orchestra, whose size belies its sound and sure command of the score under Gareth Williams.

Many shows describe themselves as musicals, some with more conviction than others. This is the real McCoy, a classic of its time, and ours, providing an evening of exquisite and undiminished joy.

- Stephen Gilchrist