On My Radar (2)

The Museum

I recently spent a few days in Bournemouth (I hadn’t had a night away in nearly two years) and my favourite thing in Bournemouth itself was definitely the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes, owners of Bournemouth’s Royal Bath Hotel, were avid travellers, collectors and philanthropists. They didn’t have any academic plan for their collecting and just bought what they liked. Not everything is to my taste (I’m not a huge fan of bombastic historical and mythological paintings) but it’s all about experiencing a feast of Victoriana in an extraordinary building. There’s also a good selection of works by female artists. Henry Irving and Ellen Terry both stayed at the Royal Bath Hotel (as did Oscar Wilde and various royals) and the ‘Irving Museum’ is a room dedicated to theatrical relics (mostly related to Irving and the Terry family), like a mini Smallhythe Place. I’m sure all Victorianists (and art lovers in general) would enjoy it as much as I did. It reminds me of the Wallace Collection or Leighton House Museum but with its own distinctive character – and a seaside setting.

The Beauty Spot

I took the bus from Bournemouth to Studland Bay (tip: take an early bus and get in the queue early), which comprises four miles of coast managed by the National Trust. It’s absolutely beautiful and my favourite feature was the ‘Wuthering Studland’ heath of wild heather above the beach. I wish I’d stayed there longer instead of feeling as if I had to move on. I’d like to go back next year and stay in Poole.

The TV Show

I think A House Through Time is social history at its best. David Olusoga is such a good presenter and I also love the contributions from Deborah Sugg Ryan (and her clothes!). I was wondering how they ‘audition’ the houses (finding one with consistently juicy stories, colourful characters and as few gaps in the record as possible must be quite the process) and this article is quite illuminating.

The Show

This isn’t an endorsement (and it’s finished now) but I wanted to commit a few thoughts in writing. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is my favourite musical and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is one of my favourite venues and I’ve always thought Carousel would be an excellent fit for it since just about all of it takes place out of doors. I really did keep an open mind about Timothy Sheader’s production even though it felt to me that some of the critics who gave the most ecstatic reviews were ‘boasting’ about how much they hate the show (especially the character of Billy Bigelow) in its original form. I can just about get behind the cast’s natural British accents and the way in which it’s set at some point in the twentieth century (I got a 1970s-ish vibe). Funnily, they change lots of the Americanisms but keep ‘President of the United States’ even though ‘Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’ scans quite well.

However… as Billy, Declan Bennett comes across as just a bit ‘too cool for school’ rather than simmeringly dangerous and he doesn’t have the voice (he has to be boosted by the ensemble at the end of the ‘Soliloquy’). Don’t get me started on weak singing being excused as ‘raw’ and ‘authentic’. Carly Bawden has a lovely, crystal-clear voice but why lower Julie’s keys? (I hate that so many people seem to have a problem with the soprano voice). Christina Modestou is beltier than I like (and she’s over mic’d) but her Welsh Carrie is very likable and John Pfumojena is an excellent Mr Snow (I’ve never seen bad performances in those roles – they seem to be foolproof). I wondered if Sam Mackay’s Jigger was a bit queer (not in the Julie Jordan sense), which lent an interesting dimension to the character’s hyper-masculinity. The highlight is Joanna Riding (Julie in the 1993 National Theatre production) as Nettie and her rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is sublime.

Tom Deering’s orchestrations are… interesting. I quite like the brass but really don’t like the electronic instruments. The score needs strings. I’m amazed that the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate authorised so many changes to the book. The highlight of the production is undoubtedly the jury of women following Billy’s suicide, who look as if they’re carrying out a pagan-like ritual, which restores the lines of ‘Mrs God’ who was cut out of town (‘You thought you’d only have to deal with a man… funny how the world doesn’t realise it needs a mother as well as a father’). I also liked the way Nettie gives the graduation speech. However, the female ensemble’s contribution is also diminished by cutting ‘Give It to ‘Em Good, Carrie’, ‘Mister Snow’ (reprise) and the women’s response to ‘What’s the Use of Wond’rin’’ (it’s particularly powerful when it’s interpreted as throwing Julie’s words back in her face). Instead of Julie telling Carrie ‘Last Monday, he hit me’, they give the line to Nettie, which makes Julie look like she’s in denial. It’s cowardly to cut *that* exchange between Julie and Louise rather than addressing it head on. Having Julie throw away Billy’s hat and walk off before the end of the ‘If I Loved You’ reprise as if she’s grown to hate him is the most horrible misrepresentation of everything she stands for. And having Billy just disappear after he fails with Louise makes no sense dramatically. Louise’s ballet is excruciating and her resolution is one of confusion and despair. As my mum (also a great lover of Carousel) and I were leaving, I was wailing, ‘I loved you, Julie. Know that I loved you’ (yes, I can be a tad dramatic when I want to be. And I do love Julie and would honestly die for her).

Fun fact: in 2004, I saw a Mountview Academy production directed by Matt Ryan that was also MD-d by Tom Deering. It was the first time I’d seen a musical performed in a studio space and it blew my mind. A golden-voiced young man called Jeff Nicholson was the most extraordinary and sympathetic Billy I’ve ever seen. I wish everyone could have seen that production (I was a mere child in 2004 but knew brilliance when I saw it).

The Soliloquy

That’s what I call a Soliloquy – dramatic singing at its finest.

The Theory

I mean, what can I possibly add?!