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Friday, 25 May 2012

Opera North's Carousel Comes to The Lowry: Local Girl's Lack of Talent Cruelly Revealed

Now, as previously noted, I am a woman of many talents - in my head, at least. I can't count the number of times I've moved an attentive audience (the cat, bribed to stay with liberal promises of Dreamies) to tears with beautiful renditions of various modern classics that are surely wasted in the confines of my own kitchen. And sometimes, I dance and pirouette my way across the floor towards the beer fridge with the natural grace and poise of an exceptionally talented gazelle.

Of course, it only takes a visit to The Lowry to see anything by Opera North to remind you what real (as opposed to delusional) talent actually looks like. This remarkable Leeds-based company have previously won a reluctant Mr Liz over to opera through their sultry, steamy Carmen, and come pretty close to converting me to Gilbert & Sullivan via their spirited Ruddigore; this week, it's the turn of Carousel, a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that I had - inexplicably - never seen, not even the film version. And I have to admit that, reading the programme notes beforehand, the whole thing sounded pretty bizarre.

Obviously though, being Opera North, it was superlative in pretty much every way. The story is as follows: young man (the splendidly named Billy Bigelow) puts his arm round young girl (Julie Jordan - only people with alliterative names are allowed to go out with each other in THIS world) on the carousel; both are fired from their jobs as a result. Meanwhile, Julie's friend Carrie is engaged to be married to a Mr Enoch Snow - he owns a fishing boat and is therefore, ahem, quite a catch *smirks at own wit*. Julie is not proving so lucky in her relationship: Billy misses the female attention he used to get on the carousel and has a hankering to go back - until Julie gives him some news that forces him to rethink how he can best fulfil his responsibilities to his wife.

I'll say no more of the plot, just in case you've never seen it, but suffice to say that the second half includes a clam bake (why have I never had one of these? why?), a trip to heaven and a mid-section entitled simply "Ballet" - and it still works. This is partly because the songs are great - I know my work colleagues certainly enjoyed the selection of "Songs from the Shows" I performed for them the following day - and include the infuriatingly catchy June is Bustin' Out All Over and a fairly well-known ditty called You'll Never Walk Alone ("typical Scousers," commented Mr Liz, controversially, "they nick EVERYTHING"*). The whole cast was as pitch-perfect as you'd expect, with standout performances from Joseph Shovelton as Enoch and Claire Boulter as Carrie.

*I take NO responsibility for this remark, or any other made by errant gentlemen with whom I am connected.

The staging was beautiful, with notable scenes including the opening number on the carousel, the scenes set in heaven, and the ballet of the second half. A key scene just after the interval perhaps lacks the required violence that would make it truly convincing, but the packed house was certainly most appreciative of the whole thing, and it speaks volumes about Opera North's peerless reputation that they can pretty much fill such a large venue on a Wednesday night.

And me? Well, I've discovered where my true talents lie: sitting outside Lime, drinking Prosecco and eating olives, and then checking my watch and having to SPRINT across the square two minutes before the performance starts. It's nice to know that we're ALL good at something...

- Carousel is on at The Lowry until Saturday 26th May and then spins away to prepare for its residency at London's Barbican Theatre in August and September - for full details visit the Opera North website.

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