WAAPA students deliver ‘Carousel’ in the age of #metoo

Carousel | The Regal Theatre | Until 23rd June| ★ ★ ★ ¾


Director Justin Langley has wisely relocated the musical from it’s original setting of the 1890’s to a more modern backdrop of America during the time of the Vietnam War. While this decision robs us of the stunning costuming options of the first period, it allows the production to tackle our changing attitudes to domestic violence. 

Billy Bigelow (Andrew Coshan) returns from the Vietnam War and soon finds himself down on his luck, he finds work as Barker on a Carousel – tempting young women to take a ride on the merry-go-round. 

He meets mill worker Julie Jordan (Amy Fortnum) and her friend Carrie Pipperidge (Jessica Clancy) and begins to chat them up. Carrie reveals to her friend that she already has a secret boyfriend, fisherman Enoch Snow (Kurt Russo) so Julie accepts the offer of getting to know the Charming and handsome carousel operator.

The pair are soon married, but the relationship is filled with domestic violence. The couple both lose their jobs and times are hard. Bigelow considers leaving his wife, but when he learns she is pregnant he decides to stand by her. To provide for his soon to be born child he hatches a plan with his roguish friend Jigger Craigin (Todd Peydo) to rob a local business man. 

Previously the character of Bigelow was presented as a lovable rogue, a devilishly handsome and charming man who was a bit rough around the edges. In days gone by we accepted the claims that someone could be a ‘good guy’ and then go home and abuse his spouse. Its not a narrative that we’d accept in 2018 – nor should we. 

This production successfully tells this tale without delving too deeply into nostalgia and through some subtle gender changes to the casting of roles, gives women’s voices more prominence. 

The highlight of musical productions from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts is their scale. Forty performers appear in this production – something that you’ll just never see in a professional commercial production nowadays. It’s grand, bold and busy.

The large cast makes the big production numbers a real treat, especially the opening scenes where performers depict the carousel and the second act’s riotous A Real Nice Clambake. Rogers and Hammerstein’s score is filled with gorgeous melodies and witty lyrics, and there’s many great song.

Talent overflows with Jessica Clancy and Kurt Russo, who play the comical Carrie Pipperidge and her betrothed Mr Snow, stealing every scene they appear in. They are this show’s Jack and Karen.

Rousso’s depiction of Snow draws on the lovable geeks we all know, his voice was quirky and nerdy, but at times he appeared to struggle with higher notes – maybe it was for effect. His comedic skills were faultless. Clancy’s performance is one of the show’s many highlights.    

Andrew Coshan delivers a Billy Bigelow who is not the ‘big strong man’ depicted by Gordon MacRae in the film version, or the ‘little man’ of successful revivals in the ’90s. Coshan’s take on Bigelow is his power is in being the best looking guy in town with a smile that beams. He was a commanding presence on stage.

Amy Fortnum showcased a fine voice in her role as Julie Jordan, and successfully conveyed a woman who was in love but also being abused. 

There were many performers who had their moment in the spotlight. Todd Peydo shined as the confident and opportunist Jigger Craigin, Stacey Thomsett was great as carousel owner Mrs Mullin, while Alexandra Cornish and Ben Stuart stood out in smaller roles. 

The set created by Black Swan Theatre Company’s resident designer Tyler Hill was stunning. A great combination of movable and adaptable parts and a clever use of a video backdrop.   

This production comes as our public discussion about violence against women and the responsibilities of men are at the forefront of the news and online discussions. The violent death of comedian Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne, and the subsequent outrage at police suggestions that women should be careful about where they walk at night are at the forefront of our minds.

When Elise Muley, who plays Nettie Fowler in the show, stands and sings the show’s iconic You’ll Never Walk Alone – a motivational anthem for our darkest hours. You couldn’t help but search for solace in the hope that one day we’ll find a “golden sky with the sweet silver sound of a lark” – a time when women don’t have to fear violence from men – and are free to walk alone.              

Rogers and Hammerstein’s story may have dated, but the themes it tackles are still a challenge for us to conquer. 

Graeme Watson    

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