Tuesday, 12 October 2021

REVIEW: The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre

After 3 and a half decades and a global pandemic, is the Phantom of the Opera still relevant in today’s theatre? The answer I have to confess is an astounding and resonating yes!

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s showstopper returns to the stage just in time to celebrate its 35th birthday, making it the second longest-running musical in the world. From its opening night in 1986 Phantom propelled itself onto the world from the West End to Broadway, UK charts and film and has no means of slowing down.

This mega-musical takes its story from the original 1909 gothic novel Le Fantom de l’opera by Gaston Leroux. Set in 1880 Paris, the plot introduces us to a little known Swedish soprano Christine Daae, who is given the chance of understudying the leading soprano Carlotta at the Opera Populaire after a mysterious event took place enraging the Italian opera diva and causing her dramatic and untimely exit. We soon learn that these mysterious and terribly dark events are a common occurrence engineered by the “Opera Ghost”. As the narrative unfolds we find ourselves drawn into a love triangle between the Phantom, Christine and her childhood sweetheart Raoul.

As I take my seat awaiting the show to commence, I sit amongst the press, guests and “phans” (Phantom fans for those not in the know) and cannot help but feel the wave of electricity in the room. The auditorium is abuzz with excitement. As soon as that iconic overture began, it had the audience in raptures; enthralled by being back in a full theatre again and having that majestic music wash over us.

Since the dreaded pandemic, some shows have not returned to town and others given the chance to make adjustments. The 35-year mark has posed an opportunity to make changes to the original production. A few added lines, lyric changes and slightly odd staging choices here and there can be easily pardoned, but one amendment that I simply cannot forgive is the drastic downsizing of the orchestra. In the past, Phantom has been celebrated for its 27 member orchestra (once the largest in the West End) fulfilling the demand of such a huge and glorious sound. Now, post-pandemic the production has cut its orchestra by half down to 14 and it inevitably tells.

That being said there is much to praise. After nearly 4 decades we are finally graced with the first black Christine played by Lucy St Louis. Her vocals can not be described as anything less than stunning, and if that weren’t enough her presence, beauty and heartfelt acting left us mesmerised. The Phantom (Killian Donnelly) portrays the troubled opera ghost with such poise and charisma that you can’t help but feel for him, despite the horrors he commits. 

Honourable mention has to go to the opera house owners Monsieur Andre (Adam Linstead) and Monsieur Firmin (Matt Harrop) who offer light relief throughout, building a solid and comical performance. 

This piece oozes humanity and after the last 18 months, theatre like this is more relevant and needed than ever before. Hopefully an indication of a more diverse and talent-based casting to see in the future. An incredibly beautiful piece that must be on your ‘to see’ list; a classic that never dies.

Review by Esther Neville 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Royal Circle E19 | Price of ticket: £87.50
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