Phantom of the Opera – London, 24 July 2004

After a break of 10 years I revisited the London Phantom and it has at it’s helm a entrancing performance by the Phantom in resident in the shape of John Owen Jones . He showed how a character’s emotions should be expressed moving between anger, despair and passion within a beat of the music. He conveys the dangerous element to the Phantom’s character, walking a thin line from which he easily falls on either side on many occasions. He is obviously a younger phantom than many of his predecessors and this makes the passions of him as a younger man come out more and making them more strong and visible s he sees himself as not just a teacher but her potential lover.

Robyn North’s Christine was nicely played but perhaps not with her own individuality on the part and although she conveyed the emotions and struggles Christine was having she wasn’t able to sustain the power in her voice on such points as ‘I’ll go mad’ in the notes section or at the end where she tells the phantom any tears she has shed for him are now tears of hate. She just needed a little spark to show why the Phantom had selected her from all the other girls.

Tom Solomon was very strong as Raoul, well acted and had a good strong voice. He conveyed the hothead tendency of Raoul, a man with not the worldly experience he believes he has.

Richard Hazell and Sam Hillier were the suitably bumbling and incompetent mangers of the opera who’s belief in ignoring something would hopefully make it go away does not come to fruition.

Judith Gardner Jones was excellent as Carlotta, the diva who should have stopped playing the ingénue parts many years before but no-one would dare tell her that. She was appropriately highly strung, relishing the managers wanting to do anything to please her and having her lap dog Piangi ready to jump at the her command and follow along.

Jim Heath’s Piangi is as shallow as Carlotta in character traits, someone with no worldly knowledge but feels he is king of the theatrical world and like Carlotta not the leading man he once was. He played the part well but his voice, though clear, was a little too light for Piangi’s entrance as Hannibal.

Heather Jackson was suitably dark and secretive as Madame Giry and Heidi Ann O’Brien was her inquisitive daughter Meg, both sharing a secret of what was really below the theatre.

The overture is a powerful start to the show and watching the theatre transform back to its original hey day is visually very effective as dust covers and long broken backdrops are returned to their former glory and the chandelier rises once more to the roof of the theatre. The backdrop for the end of act 1 where Christine and Raoul are on the roof is particularly effective showing the lit opera house and the roof top view of Paris.

The final section from the ‘Point of no return’ remains my favourite section of the show and the final scene was performed very well by Phantom, Raoul and Christine and the Phantom’s final cry of ‘you alone can make my song take flight’ was that of a heartbroken man.

The overall staging of the show seems to be a mix of very strong scenes mirrored with others which feel too staged. The opportunity for difference in performances doesn’t seem to be allowed for in the direction and the restriction on this individualism feels at times too much. In particular the directions of the movements for Meg Giry seem to be in the style of the operetta even when they are meant to be the real world. Whenever she was on stage and a sign the phantom was there the directions to move to the centre of the stage and stare out with the words‘ he’s here the phantom of the opera’ and then run back to the previous spot seemed to take away some of the sense of foreboding in the statement and made it more melodramatic. The final moment where Meg takes the Phantom’s mask takes on a slight caricature where from memory the original staging of the ending had Meg remain by the Phantom’s chair with perhaps that small idea that the Phantom had selected her. Some of the scene changes seemed less than sharp and slightly chaotic as curtains came down, which at most times fitted in with the current action but other times just seemed a little sloppy.

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