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Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

The Regent's Park, Inner Circle, London NW1 4NU 0333 400 3562

Open Air Front. Sound of Music 2013. Image David Jensen
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Ends 25th September 2021.
Captioned performance: 3rd September 2021 at 7.45pm
Audio Described performance: 4th September 2021 at 2.15pm
Signed performance: 20th August 2021 at 7.45pm

An everyday story of New England wife-beating folk.

Classic Rogers and Hammerstein returns to the Open Air Theatre with Timothy Sheader and Drew McOnie in artistic control.

(seen at the first preview performance on 31st July 2021)

In true Regent’s Park Theatre style, Timothy Sheader and Joanna Bowman take an established classic and sandblast the years away to reveal a new and breath-taking beauty. In this case, a tiny pearl, but what a valuable jewel it is.

Straying from its musical theatre roots, “Carousel” has for some time been the preserve of opera singers hoping to sell a few records once “Nessun Dorma” had tapped out. Here, it is reclaimed by genuinely ordinary folk, and it is beautiful.

Bursting the constraints of time and place, it’s probably somewhere northern, England old or new? Irrelevant. If you thought the opening carousel of the 1992 National Theatre Production (the monkey was there on press night) was inspired, as a fairground barker might paraphrase Al Jolson, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Later, there’s equal heart-wrenching symbolism and beauty as she – in all senses of the word – forms on Tom Scutt’s brilliantly conceived simple stage. You’ll ponder for weeks, marvel for months. There’s lighter moments elsewhere with the return of the “As You Like It” drowning victim and a dummy you can’t wait to get your hands on. As for the buoy serving this realm and the other, genius right there.

Drew McOnie serves up his best choreography to date by a mile. “Blow High, Blow Low” for the first time ever is naturalistic not camp. Louise’s second act ballet becomes a tale of urban danger, as well it could be, Natasha May-Thomas rising to the occasion. The closing moments of the show – executed brilliantly by Daisy West – will burn in the mind too, the resolution summing up the intellectual depth of his work on this masterpiece.

Add Molly Einchcomb’s terrifically observed costumes (the soles of the ladies’ footwear indicate how hard they must have rehearsed) and we can move on to the casting – every one of them wanting to cut their work in stone on the CV so it is never forgotten.

Carly Bawden (Julie Jordan) and Christina Modestou (Carrie Pipperidge) are theatrical dynamite together. The former is no young girl to be trifled with, but an emotionally mature woman who truly knows her own mind. The later is equally formidable, with added comic timing and playing off her friend to balance the relationship to the ounce. Both stop the show with their heart-felt numbers, making it hard to move on past “Mister Snow” and “If I Loved You,” pinnacles reached so early yet with plenty more for the rest of the evening.

Their husbands fare equally well. Declan Bennett (Billy Bigelow) condenses the entire auditorium into a personal conversation in his Soliloquy. His musicianship is put to good use when dreaming, his acting skills bringing new meaning to his fatal excursions into crime and his attempts at redemption.

By contrast, John Pfumojena (Mr Snow) is a fine man... who rather likes chorines. Pfumojena resists the stiffness some imbue the character with. Ambitious, religious yet wanting only the best for his family, his is a lovely character study with fine vocal to match.

Joanna Riding (Nettie Fowler) doesn’t land the big number, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” so much as embroider it across the hearts of the cast and watching audience. No power histrionics, this is a meditation for the soul, to be contemplated at length.

Mention must be made also of Brendan Charleson (Mr Bascombe) whose immaculate emotional judgements and timing in two pivotal scenes provided key support of the highest order. Shy Ediz Mahmut (Enoch Snow Jnr) deserves mention too, and perhaps the heart of Ms Bigelow in due course.

Both actors covering for Mrs Mullin and Jigger Craigin are also worthy of note – sadly no programme slip to name them – but the flip-side of the peaceful life was theirs to illustrate and they rose remarkably to the occasion.

With a final tip of the hat to the entire ensemble, well meeting every need of the story-telling through dance, song and action as required, only one question must remain...

... that line. A story of domestic violence prettified? This production resolves the question by taking an entirely new angle. Female empowerment is busting out all over, is all one needs to know before actually seeing the show.

The awards season next year should allow this to take “Best Revival,” though “Best Actor / Actress in a musical” and likewise Supporting category, could be trickier if the other huge new shows are up to standard. The point is that the show is not to be missed by those who love it anyway, and should be seen too by those who find the theme questionable. It’s superlative, and there is nothing more to say.

Standing ovation given.


Legacy reader reviews

(1 review)

Front Stalls E23. 
The production uses a revolve that is horizontal, and this means that the front of the stage is something like a meter higher than typical. From this row E seat in the centre block, an average-height adult's eyes were at the level of the actors' knees when they were standing on the stage, and there are only a few times that they sit down on the edge of the stage where the viewing is more comfortable. I would not have been happy sitting any closer to the stage than this, and it's possible that seeing too much too closely and from too low down spoiled some of the effect of the production for me.

For what it's worth, row A is not in use (as you have already noted). I tried row B in the centre block: my eyes were below stage level; in row C, I could just see the stage floor.

The monkey advises checking performance times on your tickets and that performances are happening as scheduled, before travelling.

Monday to Saturday at 7.45pm
Thursday and Saturday at 2.15pm and 7.45pm

Runs 2 hours 35 minutes approximately.

Theatres use "dynamic pricing." Seat prices change according to demand for a particular performance. Prices below were compiled as booking originally opened. Current prices are advised at time of enquiry.


2021 Season.

Open Air Theatre price seating plan

Sound desk in use

Open Air Theatre price seating plan around sound desk

Senior Citizens:
Best available non-premium price seats reduced to £25 at all midweek afternoon performances only. Bookable in advance, tickets must be collected from the box office on the day of performance, with appropriate ID presented. 

Under 18s:
Seats reduced to half price at all performances EXCEPT Saturday Evenings and "Extra Events." Bookable in advance, tickets must be collected from the box office on the day of performance, with appropriate ID presented. 

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