Sunday, 30 September 2012
'The Phantom Of The Opera', Edinburgh Playhouse, 29/9/12
As 'The Phantom Of The Opera' John Owen-Jones not only commands the Opera Garnier but the Playhouse as well. His astounding performance being the cherry on top of a beautiful cake of a production.
Is it a perfect production? Sadly not, but it is close to being so:
The musical direction was excellent aside from 'All I Ask Of You' which was conducted at too fast a tempo for my liking. The conductor, Anthony Gabriele, was a joy to watch and truly brought out wonderful sounds from the reduced orchestra which did, at times, sound a bit thin, especially in the more operatic moments and the obvious addition/substitution of synthesisers was at times obvious, although, surprisingly, 'The Music Of The Night' was the most sublime I've ever heard it played live. Mick Potter's sound design complimented the orchestra and was used cleverly to enhance them in regards to volume and quality.
Maria Bjornsons' costumes were as glorious as ever although some of the newer, additions are conspicuous. Paul Brown's wonderful set was truly outstanding with use of a multi-purpose central design essaying further details of the backstage areas of the Opera House. To my mind much of the design echoed locations as featured in the original novel; the 'Maquerade' here takes place, not on the Grand Staircase as per the original production, but rather in a circular, mirrored room, akin to the Rotunda featured in the novel for the same scene. True, this lessened the entrance of 'The Phantom' (especially since his reveal and 'The Phantom Theme' came at different times) and the cast did, at times, look a bit sparse, but it still works well. Likewise the backstage areas are more obvious and detailed than in Bjornson's original designs, which preferred to hint at them, and some of the detailing here, plus the goings-on in the background helped create the sense of a functioning Opera House. The Lair of 'The Phantom' also looks more real and human (as per the novel) and we even see a rail of his dress shirts. In fact his lair looks quite a pitiful place which only adds to the sense of isolation the character must feel day-to-day whilst subconsciously feeding the same feeling to the audience. When confronted by the crowd in this place at the end of the show it is perhaps more embarrassing for this enigmatic figure.This is the kind of detail and variation from the original (stunning) Bjornson design I wish they had applied to the 2004 Motion Picture where expansion was essential.
Some set changes were a bit cumbersome, however, which meant that some scene changes and musical cues didn't quite gel. Likewise to facilitate some of the changes portions of the book were changed with often pointless additional lines of dialogue to fill the time required.
On the plus side a nice touch to certain scene changes was their implementation by men dressed as backstage crew of the period. Such small details please me. Paule Constable's Lighting complimented the design well, creating variations of light and shade adding to the depth of the production.
Laurence Connor's direction had some wonderful touches, such as the use of projected shadows (by Nina Dunn), but at other times a little puzzling: I understand it was the intention to make 'The Phantom' more man than mystery and to that end we actually see him at times amongst other people but, at the same time, he still has to hold much mystery and power and Connor negated some of this especially in the Perros scene where his confrontation with 'Raoul' is an almost muted affair: In this scene, 'Raoul' is also made quite ineffectual, given the fact that they are only a matter of meters away from each other. Since 'Raoul', only in the scene before, had stated that 'The Phantom' must be killed, he makes no effort whatsoever to take advantage of a moment to do so. Of course, were he to do so the story would be over but it's the director's responsibility to stage the scene in an appropriate manner. Here we had a glaring error of judgement.
The staging of 'All I Ask Of You' also irritated me. Here are a young couple declaring their love for each other, but instead of letting the song and the emotions work their magic, Connor has 'Raoul' and 'Christine' constantly dodging each other and wandering about the stage, almost as if Connor has no confidence in the simplest of stagings.
He does stage other scenes, however, quite wonderfully: 'The Music Of The Night' is a successful and subtle variation of Hal Prince's staging (it is very difficult to get away totally from aspects of Prince's staging as much of it is entwined with the music and lyrics), 'Don Juan Triumphant' and 'The Point Of No Return' (especially 'The Phantom's' impersonation of 'Piangi') is passionate and well directed, as is the final Lair scene and other little touches of Connor's are elegant and effective: It is his use of Brown's set that perhaps showcases the most original aspects of his direction.
Katie Hall as 'Christine' has to be one of the best in the role, looking every inch the young girl with a beautiful voice and assured acting talent.
Simon Bailey also looks and acts the part, handsome and charming and together they come across as the closest approximations to the characters of the original Leroux novel I've yet seen. It's just a shame their big duet, 'All I Ask Of You', was directed in such a clumsy way. But it's also a pleasure to see that Connor's direction of 'Raoul' is not so obviously directed as to be an indication of the travesty the character becomes in 'Love Never Dies'. 'Raoul' in the 25th anniversary concert, as staged by Connor, was nothing more than a selfish, angry, spoilt aristocrat who I found it preposterous to believe 'Christine' would give any attention whatsoever to.
'Carlotta' and 'Piangi' (Angela M Caesar and Vincent Pirillo) were not so successful with the former's voice being inconsistent in strength whilst they, together with the 'Managers' of Andy Hockley and Simon Green, were directed in such a way that some of the comedy inherent in their parts was flattened so that they became dull and tiresome at points.
Though the remainder of the ensemble looked a little sparse at times every member performed excellently.
'The Phantom' himself was performed by John Owen-Jones who imbued the character with beauty, mystery, power, presence, viciousness and pity in such a well crafted and acted performance that to hear him sing with such a sublime voice, which was at times as soft as a feather and at others as hard as stone, one could utterly believe how he could project terror and fascination, not to mention wonderment and enthralment, into others. Owen-Jones' was a perfect, well rounded performance that can only have been equalled by Michael Crawford's initial creation. He certainly surpassed in every way the performance that was given by Ramin Karimloo in the 25th anniversary concert which makes me wonder why he wasn't chosen for that concert in the first place (he was playing the role in London at the time and makes an appearance in the finale along with several other 'Phantoms').
In any case John Owen-Jones is even able to overcome any flawed direction (e.g. Perros) and constantly delivered above and beyond the call of duty.
The tour now continues on with a new 'Phantom', Earl Carpenter, and, if some of the more negative aspects of my review were dealt with (e.g. timing of musical cues/entrances, simplifying staging etc.) I would say that the production was as near powerful as the original as is possible. As it stands I would still say it is a superb production with an outstanding design, good direction (overall), overall top-notch cast, a wonderful orchestra and is more than well worth a visit.
Even if the chandelier fails to actually crash (we do still get a bit of destruction, though).
It certainly stands amongst the best things I've seen tour, and wouldn't look out of place in the West End with a few minor tweaks.
When I saw the show the only programme available was the souvenir brochure which had an additional cast list (no pics or bios) slipped in. I have since learned that a separate programme was available, as per usual, complete with biographies and such but that the theatre (who produces these) sold out by the final two shows featuring John Owen-Jones. This is the second time I've been to an Ambassador Theatre where they have produced insufficient programmes to cover a run and think that this is an unacceptable thing to happen. It is a disservice to those onstage that people are unable to appreciate who they are and what they've done previously, not to mention those whose hard graft backstage is not featured at all in the simple credit page slipped in with the brochure (and in some cases I was aware that this page wasn't always slipped in by theatre staff!).