Arts Educational School, London
With an established track record of successful past productions and a storyline that provided the basis for Roger and Hammerstein’s iconic musical Carousel, this well travelled play by Ferenc Molnár requires a company of self assured actors to live up to such hype. So who better for the task than a company of fresh faced, confident stage school MA graduates? Yet this seems to be where the problem lies, as the somewhat self-indulgent performances of these young actors doesn’t quite do justice to the demands of such richly evolved characters’ and text.
In this most recent production directed by Matthew Lloyd, an eager company of ten graduates tell the intriguing story of a cocky carousel Barker Liliom (Sam Blythe), who quits his job and falls in love with a young maid Julie (Stacey Roberts). The couple marries but their relationship quickly breaks down as Liliom becomes increasingly abusive towards her; but when he discovers the news that he is soon to become a father, he is deliriously happy. In an attempt to financially provide for his family Liliom, unbeknownst to Julie, participates in a get-rich-quick robbery scheme. The hold-up is a disaster and Liliom has no choice but to kill himself so as to avoid capture. He is sent to purgatory. Sixteen years later he is allowed to return to Earth for one day to do a good deed for his teenage daughter, whom he has never met. If he is successful he will be allowed to enter heaven.
There are a few moments of visual brilliance and charm courtesy of set designer Katie Lias, however, they are contained within the first twenty minutes of this ninety-minute production, making the remainder of the performance somewhat lackluster. Highlights include the opening carnival scene in which we see the pitch black stage light up with an array of glow in the dark balls being juggled and thrown to the sound of enchanting carousel music. There is also a tender moment between Liliom and Julie who sit alone talking of the blossom on the trees as petals gently fall from above onto their laps.
The play as a whole seems to lack any real sincerity when it comes to the acting and consequently the company is unable to make an enduring connection with their audience. The moments of comedy appear inauthentic and the moments of pain and sadness are not portrayed with quite enough veracity or vulnerability, despite Robert’s admirable attempts. The characters seem one-dimensional and with so much possibility in the script, the potential for greatness lingers, yet Lloyd fails to seize it.
For all intense and purposes this is a well-rehearsed MA production, all aspects neatly presented as one would expect from a school where Andrew Lloyd Webber resides as president. Yet despite their valiant attempt, many of the graduates in this company have yet to portray the integrity of seasoned actors, integrity that a script of this caliber so earnestly demands.