Carousel, Opera North Festival Theatre

It’s the day after seeing Opera North’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wonderful musical Carousel and I’m still tearing up just thinking about it. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and, by the final full cast rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, our emotions had been well and truly put through the wringer.

But let’s go back to the beginning. From the opening bars of the overture, we are pulled in straight away to the middle of the carnival and the eponymous carousel. The set is simple yet stunning with the shadows of the fairground horses whirling around the walls above. A huge circle festooned in lights descends and transforms into the carousel where Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan first meet and fall in love. It is no straightforward love affair – Julie is a respectable mill worker who throws caution to the wind in the face of all the warnings against travelling fairground worker Billy who has broken many girls’ hearts and has no intention of settling down. No intentions until now, that is. In the beautiful love song, “If I Loved You”, they both imagine how it would be if they were to fall in love and marry and, on a romantic moonlit night surrounded by falling blossom, they decide to do just that.

Cue a couple of months later and the idyll is starting to crack. Billy is out of work, hanging out with a bad crowd and, worst of all, has started to beat Julie. He doesn’t sound a very sympathetic character does he, but we know, deep down, that he really loves her and is trying his best to do right by her in his own way. Unfortunately his way ends tragically after his involvement in a botched robbery attempt leads to his death and Julie is left alone to bring up their unborn child. Billy is taken before a judge in Heaven who allows him to go back to Earth for one more day to make amends to his troubled wife and daughter. OK, the plot sounds a bit daft, and there is some dodgy non pc dialogue, but I defy anyone not to get totally immersed in the storytelling and the emotional drama on display.

It helps, of course, that the songs and music are glorious and, as you would expect from a renowned opera company like Opera North, the calibre of the performers, the orchestra, the chorus, the staging and lighting are of the highest quality. Gillene Butterfield and Keith Higham as Julie and Billy, Stuart Neal as Ligger, Aoife O’Sullivan as Carrie are all excellent as is Yvonne Howard as Nettie whose rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will melt the stoniest of hearts. There are also some great action packed dance scenes and chorus numbers and a beautiful ballet sequence with Beverley Grant as Louise. Lovers of musical theatre – this is a real treat, I urge you to see it.

Irene Brownlee