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Did Carousel have critics in a spin?

The hit musical returns – here's what the critics thought!

Jack Mitchell (ensemble), Declan Bennett (Billy Bigelow) and Natasha May-Thomas (Louise Bigelow)
© Johan Persson

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage

★★★★★

"The traditional problem with Carousel is that some of the lushest and most beautiful music ever composed – "If I Loved You", "Mister Snow", "June is Bustin' Out All Over" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" – is placed at the service of a plot in which, for no apparent reason, a strong-minded mill girl called Julie falls for the violent fairground barker Billy Bigelow, whose inadequacy in life is finally redeemed by some weird supernatural intervention after his death.

"Director Timothy Sheader and his team confront its difficulties head on and fiercely. The action, usually set in a fishing community in Maine, is now clearly British and northern; the cast speak and sing in their own accents. The ending is trimmed and altered; when Billy, who has killed himself in the progress of an entirely pointless robbery, is allowed his day back on earth to see his 16-year old daughter, he is guided not by a whimsical Starkeeper but by a regiment of women who confront him with his own violence; in the long ballet sequence he witnesses, McOnie's choreography (superb and striking throughout) puts Louise at danger not only of bullying but of sexual assault. A line comparing a slap to a kiss has been cut."


Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★★★

"Sheader has had musical supervisor Tom Deering totally re-orchestrate the once sumptuous score: the strings are out, replaced with ringing peals of brass and glistening shards of treated electric guitar. Again it makes for a harder, harsher Carousel in which the message doesn't feel in contrast to the jollity of the medium.

"Combined with a superlative cast, taut, wiry choreography from Drew McOnie and some judicious tweaks and cuts and you have a tougher Carousel, one that feels truer to its own tragedy. And yes, it still has those surging songs: the jaunty likes of "June is Bustin' All Over" and "That Was A Real Nice Clambake" feel no less valid here than they usually do. And "You'll Never Walk Alone", sung beautifully by the veteran musical theatre actress Joanna Riding, remains a thing of pure majesty."


The cast of Carousel
© Johan Persson


Dominic Maxwell, The Times

★★★★

"English accents, and a spare yet evocative design by Tom Scutt that centres the action on a slowly moving revolve carved out of an angled wooden deck, makes these characters' passions and problems feel almost uncomfortably close. The acting is outstanding all round.

"So for all the Broadway pizzazz that bursts out when, say, the sinewy sailors go up and down on their haunches to "Blow High, Blow Low" or when Joanna Riding leads the large ensemble in "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", the emotions are as clear as the acoustics. Tom Deering's inspired musical rearrangements add '60s and '70s textures to enhance the sense of familiar yet surprising, comforting yet disconcerting."


Tim Bano, The Stage

★★★

"It's the women in the ensemble who shine, particularly Carly Bawden's Julie whose effortless voice is a joy. Christina Modestou's Carrie brings some lightness and humour to the show, along with John Pfumojena's buttoned-up Enoch Snow, while Joanna Riding's Nettie is a formidable anchor, straight-backed and no-nonsense.

"Declan Bennett suffers in comparison as Billy. In his favour, he never makes Billy remotely charming. He's cold and brutish, a nasty piece of work. But he slightly overplays things, tipping ever so slightly too far into cartoonish villainy."


Nick Curtis, Evening Standard

★★★

"It still feels like we're buying these songs at too high a price. Why not rewrite it completely, as the Broadway duo originally did with Ferenc Molnar's original short story and play? The estates of Rodgers and Hammerstein would undoubtedly baulk at that: but the tinkering they have permitted is queasy and piecemeal.

"The execution is largely excellent, though. Carly Bawden's strong, certain voice fills out Julie's thin character. Joanna Riding (who played Julie in the famous 1992 National Theatre production) hunkers enthusiastically into the matriarch role of Nettie and gives "You'll Never Walk Alone" solo welly."

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