Classical review: Opera North: Carousel, Edinburgh

There is never a dull moment in Opera North's 'sparkling' Carousel. Picture: PA
There is never a dull moment in Opera North's 'sparkling' Carousel. Picture: PA
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IN THEIR 1945 musical Carousel, Rogers and Hammerstein probe the darker side of human behaviour, and in particular the self-destruction of fairground barker Billy Bigelow.



Rating: *****

But while his fate captures our sympathy, this is a musical of the golden-age tradition, where good ultimately wins the day, even if it means creating a weird final scene for Billy to return to Earth to make amends.

Opera North’s sparkling production, playing in Edinburgh this week, is one that fully recognises the optimism, the fun, the colour and spectacle of the genre. It absolutely has the lot – song, dance, snappy humour, vivid characterisation, set designs by Anthony Ward that whisk you from one dazzling scene to the next with film-like ingenuity, and a score that is endlessly tuneful but with a strong whiff of the unexpected.

Jo Davies’ version for Opera North is faithfully recreated by revival director Ed Goggin. There’s never a dull moment, even throughout the overture, a complex and satisfying visual feast in itself.

Keith Higham’s Billy is both heart-warming and paradoxical, capturing those demons with refreshing naivety. It’s never so easy these days to understand his wife Julie’s sanguine acceptance of physical abuse at his hands, but Gillene Butterfield plays her with cool affection. There are captivating performances, too, from Yvonne Howard as the homely Nettie Fowler, Joseph Shovelton as the laughable Mr Snow and Stuart Neal as the irrepressible Jigger Craigin.

The synergy of dance, song and acting is liquid smooth. James Holmes’ musical direction captures the golden heat of this wonderful score. Catch it if you can.

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