Phantom of the Opera
Her Majesty’s Theatre London
Saturday 02 June 2018
Matinee performance 2.30pm
This was a paid for visit not a press trip
Everyone in life hides at least one guilty pleasure. It may be things other people hate like getting nails done, recreational cocaine or spa breaks. I very rarely admit in public that I have a secret love of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. I’ve no idea why I do, it’s a mystery never fully explained.
I had a feeling attending a matinee performance would scupper my chances of getting to see Ben Lewis in the role of The Phantom. It did. Disappointingly he didn’t perform, instead the role was covered by standby Phantom Scott Davies.
I’ve always thought the cast board in a theatre foyer was a better way of announcing a cast change rather than programme slips or even worse an announcement in the auditorium before the show. It’s a soft blow.
A collective groan from some 2000 people is an awful, energy sapping way to start a performance, especially considering that with a standby or understudy you are still getting a highly trained professional who can even bring a fresh, interesting take on a character.
I was only a teensy bit disappointed about the casting but that was because I’d seen Scott perform as The Phantom during the UK tour in 1999 at The Bristol Hippodrome #SpecialistSubjectAlert.
The Phantom is such a complex person and presented quite differently by different performers that I do like to see the role covered by someone else each time.
Leroux’s enigmatic character has an incredible depth from which to pull from. There are many facets – not all of them very nice – but The Phantom nonetheless is a fascinating person mixing Savant Syndrome, neurodevelopmental difficulties with attachment difficulties, a touch of charm and a touch of sociopathy. That would definitely tick all the boxes for a CAMHs referral in 2018.
Ben Lewis’ performance in the Australian production of Love Never Dies – Phantom sequel – was definitely enigmatic and captivating. I would have liked to have seen him bring that to the London production in contrast to the burlier yet still beautiful performance of John Owen Jones and Scott Davies’ incredible descent into heartbreak and madness.
I have seen some eight productions of the show, including at Her Maj but not since the early 90s. Returning in 2018 is very much like walking into a time capsule. The London show has barely changed if at all. This time, I was taking my eleven year old who is now at the same age I was when I first saw it. I wanted him to love it too. Seeing his jaw drop at the chandelier making its way off stage during the dramatic overture, I knew it was going to be a winner.
Let’s face it. The Phantom of the Opera is a secret guilty pleasure because it is a bit of a hammy melodrama. It’s the theatrical equivalent of sitting on the sofa in comfy trousers watching a favourite tragic film. They should really think about doing a sing-along performance because you could feel others in the audience itching to join in.
Kelly Mathieson’s acting as Christine is one of the best I’ve seen. Youth and confidence is gradually beaten out of her by a series of characters who are little more than bullies. And, by the end, I would hope in reality she would have slapped a restraining order on both Raoul and The Phantom and paddled off in the boat alone.
The show is famed for being a tragic love story, but both characters treat her quite contemptuously at times. After the show, I explained to my son that it is never acceptable to throw a woman to the floor in any circumstances. He piped up with “neither is it acceptable to bully them into performing on stage to set someone up when they don’t want to.” At times, Phantom is a little problematic for a generation finally being raised to adhere to a no means no stance.
Scott Davies’ Phantom was an utter delight in an edge-of-the-seat final showdown. Despite knowing full well how the show ends, at one point, I held my breath wondering how far he was going to take things. It’s electrifying performances like this that stops the show becoming a paint-by-numbers production. In a roller coaster 2.5 hours, he’d been charismatic, petulant, seductive, aggressive yet tragic in a way that makes the audience somehow forgive the utter ass-hat behaviour the character displays. Seriously, is anyone ever on Team Raoul?
The pace of the show was fast. At times too fast. It felt like it was going to spiral out of control, perhaps that was the intended effect. But there were times it needed to rein it back, give it time to breathe.
It’s a behemoth of a show. The ultimate West End musical. An institution, almost a London tourist landmark. And, although highly enjoyable, it’s probably long past needing some freshening up.
The 2012 UK tour featuring John Owen Jones and Katie Hall with Simon Bailey’s delightfully kick arse Raoul did this. It felt edgier, darker and whilst it was in Bristol I ended up going three times.
There are few shows I can go back and watch time and time again. I’m fussy and pernickety. Phantom, for me, is one of those shows I will never get bored of watching. I’ve even been idly pricing up popping back up alone to try and catch Ben Lewis on stage. Not literally of course. But the fact I’ve already been looking at going again shows that this musical still Has It after all this time.
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