THOSE old American movies on the telly that regularly send us to sleep in the armchair are no more preposterous than Carousel, Witham Operatic’s choice for the Braintree Festival. Apart from Richard Rodgers’ eminently sing-able music, it is a rather corny weepy which sends the ladies in the audience reaching for their hankies. There is an over-long ballet sequence an interminable soliloquy and little or nothing in the way of comic relief.
Yet Witham, once again playing to packed houses, is scoring a notable success and kept me a rapt spectator for the whole evening, This company is fortunate in having a large chorus of-pretty girls and stalwart chaps who sing lustily, dance vigorously and will have a go at anything, even ballet.
The opening scene, set in an amusement park, is another triumph for director Derek Collins. Mimed to music, it presents one of the best examples of colourful crowd-work I have seen in the world of amateurs and the children, who are always potential scene stealers anyway, scamper about in a most natural fashion.
The principals are in very good form, Pat Harris, as Julie, the ill-used heroine, supplements her delightful singing with a genuine feeling for tragic acting and Janet Fletcher, as Carrie her friend, is an ideal contrasting soubrette.
A heavy responsibility rests on the broad shoulders of David Fletcher and he carries it well. He is the rough and tough Billy Bigelow, the fairground Barker, who dies, goes to heaven and brings back a star for his under-privileged daughter Louise. He tells us his innermost thoughts in a rousing baritone and is a leading man any society would welcome with open arms.
Derek Collins, squeezes the maximum of drollery from the rather odd Enoch Snow and gives us a taste of his mellow tenor voice for good measure while Edward Maltby, as the infamous Jigger, is every inch a villain. The smaller parts are, as ever, carefully studied. Pauline Hanford (Nettie), Geoff Coverdale (Mr Bascombe), Tim Sheppard (Starkeeper) and Rita Page as an uninhibited Mrs Mullin.
Late in the play, Billy's daughter appears and Jacky Wood dances and acts with engaging charm. She shares these duties with Nicola Reader who appears on alternate evenings. A word of praise for Ron Howe who acts as partner for Louise in the inevitable dream ballet. Although lacking the necessary apprenticeship, he gives a courageous performance.
Brenda Goddard's dances for the chorus are most attractive and easy on the eye especially the hornpipe in Act 1 while Wally Assheton-Taylor’s orchestra, particularly sound in wind, provides a pleasant and seldom obtrusive accompaniment.