Chopsy Blog: Thinking of the Phantom

Chopsy Baby Blog Post

By Jen Smith

The Phantom of the Opera review for the Bristol Hippodrome: Reviewing the review.

If I was Christine, I would definitely go for the Phantom. I’m not sure if this is because he is incredibly talented, charismatic, or I am just a sucker for a sob story.  If the story was set today, the Phantom – in the original novel named Erik – and his talent would have been recognised. The worst thing he would go through is being the subject of a channel 4 documentary, The boy born without a head. Or something.

I was generally musing whether to buy a ticket to go and see the ‘new’ touring production at the Bristol Hippodrome. I was pleased to review the show on press night. While umming and ahhing over dates, I received an email from a reader who had attended the same performance and disagreed with the review we had published.

Helen from Bath, said she felt ‘disappointed’ that I had not enjoyed it. Had we ‘actually seen the same show she had seen???’  She thought it was ‘amazing’.

There is no doubt the new show is good. At times fantastic and the cast superb. Listening and reading other people’s comments on the same performance I had seen, everyone thought it was amazing. The only minor common criticism to come out was that the Masquerade scene wasn’t as good. Actually, I thought getting rid of the staircase and daft mannequins and opening it out for the dancers was a vast improvement. Liked Scott Ambler’s choreography by the way.

The big momement for the Phantom introducing his opera was a let down. Walking back out through the mirror? Our have-a-go hero Raoul would have been on the case. Not just a pretty face in this production, he’s got balls too. Nobody thought to clock the Phantom one over the back of the head with a Newcastle Brown bottle? And why did they not just smash the mirror and follow him down to his lair if they wanted to catch him that badly?

For a ‘new’ production, perhaps it has been played a little safely. Not only has Phantom had an impressive run in the West End, Cameron Mackintosh now has two different versions of the same show selling out in different parts of the country. That is impressive.

In actual fact, it is about time the musical was given a dusting down and freshening up. I have seen it a few times in London (with an unknown John Barrowman), from the age of around 11. And, a couple of times at the Bristol Hippodrome when it was out on tour.

It’s a musical people feel very passionately about. It’s more than a love it or hate it affair. Each fan will be secretly routing for their favourite character, even if they know the ending well.

Most of the superlatives expressed about this new production have come from people who have quite clearly never seen the high gloss quality of the original – which must stand as the benchmark. Or if they have, they were certainly not watching the same show as me. They would have picked up the flaws. Or they could have been too busy checking their mobile phone every ten minutes and thinking about chips.

Bad theatre it was not. Bad theatre is walking out at the interval of Whistle Down the Wind, or the racist and smutty Christmas pantomime. Or the time I couldn’t escape from Saturday Night Fever and took to applauding the disco ball just to have something to clap at. There was Ellen Kent’s Nutcracker that was genuinely so bad it was funny. Oh and her Swan Lake where the orchestra sounded like they had a free bar at the interval. There was something David Essex was in that made me want to cry.  And no doubt there have been many more things that have wanted to make me leap from the upper circle after twenty minutes. Jethro springs to mind.

But there is also amazing theatre. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, or Highland Fling. Or his Cinderella. There was Mary Poppins. Cats. Les Mis. The Rambert. Take your pick of anything at the Tobacco Factory Theatre. The Welsh National Opera. The Birmingham Royal Ballet. A production of the Marat/Sade at the Bristol Old Vic some 15 years ago that still sticks in mind. Even Bodger and bloody Badger and the Chuckle Brothers have put on some great shows. Really.

The Phantom of the Opera is not great, it is amazing. The way the story has been recreated from Gaston Leroux’s great but stuffy novel and transformed into something beautiful is amazing. Being able to get millions of audiences to fall in love with a murdering, obsessive deformed man who lives underground and kidnaps and distorts the mind of a beautiful woman. For 25 years. That is amazing.

If I were to revive the original I wouldn’t know where the hell to start. Striking a balance between a commercial success and an artistic achievement is difficult with such a well loved show; but with Midas touch Matthew Bourne jointly overseeing the production it shouldn’t have been difficult. Perhaps a more cinematic effect would have been interesting. More tricks and optical illusions definitely.

Helen from Bath was very wrong thinking I had not enjoyed the new Phantom of the Opera. I did. Immensely. That lump in my throat at the end told me I had. And, it also told me that I probably wanted to see it again. But no show is without its weaker points, its criticism and yes, its flaws. Just as the show on 29 May had its wonderful moments, it also had its flaws.

Oh and by the way, if anyone could tell me the reason why Christine suddenly faints on the bed during Music of the Night, I am still wondering.