What We Did Next is a little company with big ambitions; a community group with a talent and vision to near match the professionals. Plus, they love a good musical. What’s not to like?
This year, WWDN have turned their hand to a classic – not their usual taste (their 2013 production was Bat Boy), but with enough of a contemporary feel to blow away the cobwebs. Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel begins as a tale of simple folk and ends up somewhere different entirely via a few reprises of You’ll Never Walk Alone, a song now much better known that the show it was written for.
Stacks of pallets made for a simple boardwalk, with two back-to-back pianos placed at its centre. This was an idea that apparently inspired the company some years back, after a member found an unusual piano score for the show, usually no stranger to a 50 piece orchestra. This stripped back musical accompaniment inspired the rest of director Shaun Holdom-Eyles’s production, pared down both by necessity and design, yet bursting with imagination and heart.
The Carousel Waltz set the scene by creating all the fun of the fair – the stage crammed with acrobats, dancers, clowns and the inventively realised carousel itself for an overwhelmingly joyous opening number. The show tells the tale of tragic Billy Bigalow (Phil Birss), a carousel barker with a too bit much male pride for his own good. When he falls for shy mill worker Julie Jordan (Julie Evans), their whirlwind romance is beset by pressure almost from the off; and when his old pal Jigger (Jak Malone) turns up in town, things take a drastic turn for the worse.
With a first act largely devoted to feelgood numbers about enjoying the summer and getting married, the second act’s twists – think Ghost, 50 years before Ghost – bring a whole new dimension (no pun intended) to the production.
As always, WWDN demonstrates a real strength in teamwork, and Carousel often works best during its large ensemble numbers, combining much more dance than in previous productions. Saying that, a very noteable highlight was Phil Birss’s remarkable performance of Billy’s Soliloquy, a quite spine-tingling moment indeed. It must have been lumps in throats all round at Julie Evan’s heartfelt You’ll Never Walk Alone accompanied by Camille Machin as Nettie Fowler; and again with the appearance of young Charlotte Dawson as the delightfully poignant Heavenly Friend. And a review of a WWDN show can hardly pass without mention of Jak Malone, a perpetual asset to the company, whose Irish wrong ‘un Jigger brooded with utterly convincing menace.
But it’s What We Did Next’s passion and dedication that shine through above all, in another touching and memorable production.