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REVIEW: Carrie The Musical at Long Eaton Duchess Theatre

Carrie The Musical
Long Eaton Duchess Theatre
Saturday 7th September 2019

The folk here at the North East Theatre Guide are big fans of Carrie. It is one musical that has made us clock up the miles. A run down to London to witness the show’s first appearance in the capital and a cast recording that is a regular on our playlist is not enough. Thus, we headed down to Derbyshire to witness another rare appearance for the Stephen King character. We were not disappointed. This may have been an amateur performance but, in many ways, it understood the source material much better than the 1988 RSC debut just up the road in Stratford.

No, we weren’t planning on writing about this show. No. This was a night off. But when Anna McAuley nailed her big opening solo number Carrie it was obvious that we were going to have to write something. Trust me – as we ate post show pizza in the hotel afterwards it is the first time that I was told “You have to cover this one”. Jo loved the relationship between Carrie (Anna McAuley) and her mother Margaret (Kathryn McAuley). They did not come across as strangers who had just met at the start of rehearsals and you actually cared for them. Director Ollie Turner actually made you feel for them. Wee-man loved the live band which was out of sight in London. He wants a copy of the score now. Charlotte Daniel led a tight band that, somehow, brought life to that cast recording. So… on with that review.

I’ll skip the history lesson – read our last review if you want to know why so many people are fascinated about a musical that rarely gets performed in the UK. I will add though that a new generation are discovering the show after an episode of Riverdale featured the musical – though some fans of the Netflix show did not clock that the musical had not just been written for the show. The downside for us is that a simple internet search for Carrie now gets lots of Riverdale links. I’ll also add that Carrie survived 21 performances on Broadway, not just the 5, including opening night, that some reviewers are quoting. Hey – some of us actively seek those precious recordings.

Carrie White is that girl in the final year of High School that everyone picks on. She is the one that gets abused when the other kids are having a bad day. Raised by her strict Christian mother Margaret, her life falls apart even more when she is embarrassed by having her first period in the school showers and not knowing what is happening to her body. Two girls, narrator Sue Snell (Ruth Kniveton) and head strong Chris (Lucy Castle) lead taunting of Carrie and are punished by their gym teacher Miss Gardner (Emma Collins). Sue is repentant and wants her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Andrew Bould) to take Carrie to prom. Chris is having none of it and she wants her prom date Billy (Kheenan Jones) to help her get revenge on “scary White”. Carrie’s mother, likewise, is not sympathetic when Carrie recalls the story of her day at school and punishes her for “becoming a woman”. The story proceeds towards Prom Night – the night they’ll never forget.

The musical has two strands that overlap: Carrie and her mother perform mainly operatic-style numbers in their humble home. It was pleasing to see the songs performed with strength, emotions and a certain fragility. Meanwhile, the schoolkids try to survive the remaining days at school with numbers that are more pop/rock in genre. They have the confidence of youth coupled with the uncertainties for the future. Lucy Castle comes across as the confident leader during Do Me A Favour, Ruth Kniveton, by comparison is able to show compassion with Once You See. We also have Reverend Bliss (Adam Guest)  and his choir performing Open Your Heart rather than just pumped through on the radio which was a nice touch.

The show was an emotional rollercoaster. We were not the only ones feeling it as there was an audible gasp from the audience when Margaret performed her last scene with Carrie. Clearly not everyone has seen the movie and/or read Stephen King’s book as it seemed to be a genuine surprise for them how it all ends.

The young cast worked well as a unit and the ensemble coped well with some difficult material. This production showed that the musical can be produced effectively with a much smaller budget than the original attempt in 1988. This was a great evening at the theatre and we wish everyone involved success in the future. Now we await someone who’ll finally do the show in the North East…

Review by Stephen Oliver.

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