Do you live in North(ish) London? Do you like classic America musicals? If so, get yourself to the Arcola theatre in Dalston for Carousel. It is on until Saturday and, amazingly, there are still tickets available. You will not regret it.
The Arcola is one of the network of small pioneering theatres scattered around London in all shapes and sizes of buildings – the Tricycle in Kilburn, the Orange Tree in Richmond, the Park in Finsbury Park are but a few. Far from the West End, they often show case new writers, and young directors – although well established actors seem only too happy to put in time too. Productions are usually excellent while the intimacy of many of the spaces (some of which hold less that 100 people) give a whole new meaning to ‘going to the theatre’.
This was my first visit to the Arcola – a disused industrial building which converts very successfully into performance space – but I very much hope it will not be my last. Especially since, if you do not want to drive, it is just across the road from Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland stations, the latter of which is on the lovely North London Overground which runs from Richmond to Stratford, via Hampstead and Willesden Junction.
As for Carousel – well, it was wonderful!
The score and been re-orchestrated for a five piece group (piano, harp, bass, percussion and flute) who were tucked up on a little platform above the stage area (only accessible, as far as one could see, by a ladder) and it worked brilliantly.
The production was extraordinary. Carousel is a long play with many changes of scene, many of which involve a great deal of movement, chorus work and dance. Given the very restricted space, the design team – and the actors – worked miracles in terms of movement. With boundless energy they whirled each other, leapt, skipped and country danced their way around buckets, boxes, flags, swings – and even the gates of heaven!
And of course, in terms of heart wrenching, Roger and Hammerstein can only be excelled by Puccini, so by Julie and Billy’s last ‘heavenly’ kiss, beautifully and movingly performed by Gemma Sutton and Tim Rogers, Kleenex were doing record business.
So, if you have an evening to spare this week – go!
Filled with ‘musical’ enthusiasm as a result of my Carousel visit, I headed off last night to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre for a performance of George and Ira Gershwin’s miracle of black-white music fusion, Porgy and Bess – one of my absolute favourites. But, oh dear….
First shock. No orchestra… It was canned… I know that orchestras are expensive and that they take up space that could otherwise be used for paying punters, but we are performing one of the 20th century’s greatest scores here and I was paying £40 to sit in the topmost seat, so canned is simply not good enough.
And not only was the music canned but the singers were amplified. Now the Regent’s Park Theatre is a perfect bowl and although it is outside, there really should be no need to amplify your singers. But if you must amplify, then for God’s ask do it properly. Whatever PA system they used might have worked in a swimming gala to announce the winners, although I doubt that it would have been very efficient even there – but for an orchestra and singers it was dreadful. A totally undefined mush – it made a delicate and intricate score sound like shopping mall muzak.
The set was bizarre – a huge wavy copper rock face (???) – so what has that to do with Catfish Row? The production – well as much of it as I saw as I am afraid I left after Act 1 – was OKish. Although, if you are going to use a doll as a baby (and no one is genuinely expecting you to use a live baby) do, for goodness sake, use the right size doll – this one looked as though it was six months premature.
The song and the dance from the supporting cast was enthusiastic and convincing – the one bright spot in an otherwise very depressing 45 minutes – but I am afraid that both the leads left a lot to be desired, especially vocally…
How sad – and how sad for those concerned. Regent’s Park do some really great shows so what went wrong here? And I always feel so sorry for the actors in a bad play or a bad performance. They are working really hard, no doubt they need the money – and they did not know it was going to be such a dog when they took the job. Which is why I did not (unlike half a dozen others in the audience) clamber out over handbags, picnic baskets and discarded shoes in the middle of the first act but waited until the interval when I could discreetly disappear.
Discreetly disappear back home where I was hoping to find a CD of the great 1976 recording by Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra with Willard White as Porgy, Leona Mitchell as Bess and Henry Boatwright as Sportin’ Life, so that I could restore my faith. But alas – no CD – just the original vinyl, but no longer a vinyl player to play it on!
Thank goodness the weather was still balmy so that I could sit out on the terrace and drown my sorrows in a brimming beaker of organic red wine and the remains of last week’s Week.