As the audience began seating themselves Hobbits entered and began the pre-show business of talking to each other, catching fire-flies, and generally introducing us into the peaceful world of the shire. There would be several more moments throughout the evening where the audience would be drawn in ...
I ad wondered how they they would distill three novels into 2 1/2 hours and new that cuts would be made but before the interval, which came after the Balrog appeared amidst terrific wind and the fall of Gandalf, I thought that the play adhered very close to the book, sometimes more so than the films. however the second act (or more accurately Acts 2 and 3) showed obvious trimming and began to lack the coherence and drama that the first act displayed. Too little time was spent setting up the real threat of the ring - that of its potential to overwhelm Frodo - for it to be a serious dramatic element. The realms of Rohan and Gondor were meshed together and Eowyn, amongst other Rohirrim were excised, along witht the army of the Dead and the Mouth of Sauron, all of which appeared in the previous, Canadian, version. I felt that if they had kept the original running time of three hours they may have been able to develop the story and drama more than they did.
Musically I was quite impressed, although I agree with the producers who declined to market the show as a straight forward musical; whilst the songs and music came out of the story, they were a device in keeping with the overall theatricality of the piece. Most numbers stayed with me after the show, though the 'Cat and the Moon' number was quite irritating and I wish they'd replace it.
The magic effects, the set and costume design and the circus skills employed were truly thrilling, and even the somewhat underwhelming projection all gelled together to create a wondrous piece to observe. Set pieces such as the arrival of the Balrog, as a giant origami monster, the descent of Galadriel from above on strips of cloth, the appearance of Shelob as a giant wicker-like puppet, the destruction of the ring and the final farewells were well executed and often left me quite astounded.
But, ultimately, the book needed to be more dramatic and whilst I understand that edits need to be made for any adaptation, I felt they weren't necessarily in the right places.
Laura Michelle Kelly as Galadriel was the standout for me. Her voice soared as much as she did and the director kept her presence throughout much of the play, almost as a narrator at times. The other cast were all quite excellent but since all the parts were quite two-dimensionally written it isn't really fair to comment except to say that the voices were good and they inhabited their cultures of Men, Dwarves, Elves and Hobbits well.
The set, based on a giant tree whose cross section was divided into several moving, rising parts was quite appropriate and the use of different materials and effects within the vined auditorium was something else. Costumes were really quite eye catching and some bettered the movie versions in my opinion.
Overall the director Matthew Warchus made a good effort but did make some atrocious decisions such as having the stilted Orcs enter the audience and growl. At that point it became a little bit like panto and became unintentionally funny.
It is a show I was overall impressed with and I hope the long-touted world tour comes to fruition, albeit with some more changes to the betterment of the show; including the correct pronunciation of the Elvish featured in the play - something which niggled me no end during the show and which endures on the cast recording!