Having never been to a production at Kilworth House before (despite having lived in Leicester all of my life), I am excited to be a part of the audience for Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Carousel, directed by Nick Winston. The theatre is everything I could have hoped for… and a lot more. From the bridge to the theatre, lit with fairy lights, to the jazz music playing in the outside bar, I definitely feel those holiday vibes. I think that some people may be put off by the idea of outdoor theatre, but let me put your mind at rest. The auditorium is completely undercover, the sound quality is amazing and if you get cold, you can purchase a blanket for a charitable donation of just £1 – they really have thought of everything. An added bonus is flexibility that a ground level, outdoor stage can offer – with entrances and exits being far past the wings – there is even a cyclist that manages to cycle with some speed. Before I get into the review of the performance, I feel it pertinent to thank the staff at the venue who are all incredibly friendly and welcoming. I am definitely a Kilworth House convert after this visit.
I must admit to knowing nothing about the storyline of Carousel before my visit. In my head, Carousel was a tale of love in the fairground, and it would all be jolly good and innocent fun… well I couldn’t have been more wrong. The plot is definitely darker than I thought it would be, and goes off at an unusual tangent during Act 2 which is thoroughly unexpected. One of the most disturbing topics explored is domestic violence, and we are almost encouraged to sympathise with the aggressor. While I know that this play is of its time, it is difficult to be presented with this, especially where the victim cares so deeply for her abusive husband.
Emma Kingston plays the role of the innocent and loving Julie Jordan with tenderness and understanding. The audience warm to her and root for her throughout. She gives stunning vocals, with an enviable vocal range. Her rendition of “What’s the Use of Wonderin’” is beautiful.
Kingston’s chemistry with Matt Blaker (Billy Bigelow) is undeniable, and if it wasn’t for the domestic abuse storyline, you would really be hoping for a happy ending for these two characters. I find the character of Billy Bigelow to be a troubling one and Baker plays it incredibly well, giving a nuanced performance. It’s a fine line when you’re trying to present the villain as a sympathetic character and I feel that Baker does this with understanding. I don’t want to like the character, but I am drawn to his charm – despite his abusive characteristics – and I do want him to have a peaceful ending. Baker’s vocals are spine tinglingly good. I am in absolute awe of his control and his emotion when he sings. When Baker and Jordan sing together (“If I Loved You”), it is magical.
Julie Yammanee (Carrie Pipperidge) is sweet and naïve in her role, and along with Tom Sterling (Enoch Snow), this is where we get a couple of root for. Where Bigalow is aggressive, Snow is sincere. The friendship explored between Carrie and Jordan is also heart-warming to watch.
The stage absolutely comes alive when the ensemble perform together, and the choreography, also by Nick Winston, is exciting and energetic. A particular highlight for me is “The Carousel Waltz” at the opening of the show. The setting by Philip Witcomb comes alive here as it is an integral part of our welcome to the carousel. “June is busting out all over” is loud and fiery with adventurous choreography. The opening to Act 2, “That was a real nice clambake” is a wholesome and jaunty tune, performed to perfection.
Overall, I struggle with the dark themes, but the production is what I am here to review, and the production is tight and very well directed, with excellent use of the stage and the ensemble.
As I have discovered, Kilworth House Theatre Productions are an event, not just your typical visit to the theatre. June is the perfect time to see Carousel as it’s “bustin’ out all over”.
Carousel is playing at Kilworth House until Sunday 3 July.