angelofmusic: Jakub Wocial - Phantom of the Opera (pic#4869127)
[personal profile] angelofmusic
Musical: The Phantom of the Opera
Production: UK Tour 2012
Theatre: Edinburgh Playhouse
Date: 26/27th September 2012


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On Wednesday 26th and Thursday 27th of September, I saw The Phantom of the Opera UK tour at the Playhouse in Edinburgh. This was a particularly sentimental moment for me, because Phantom was and remains my first musical love, and it's almost 17 years exactly since I first saw that show in that theatre, as an impressionable teenager.

On Wednesday, we were front row of the balcony, and last night, second row of the stalls, so I like to think I got the best of both worlds when it comes to seeing the performance. I'll do the staging and production first, because on the whole, cast-side is likely to get long and babbly.

The design is an entirely new one, and unlike anything I've seen in any Phantom productions. I've seen dozens of versions, not simply the full ALW version: Polish small production, Polish large, Yeston and Kopit variations and goodness knows how many video exerpts and clips of shows from around the world. When I say this is my favourite show, I'm not even remotely joking. Just look at the name of my blog :)

There is excellent use made of a stage revolve, meaning that scene transitions can be done by simply revolving the new set into place, while the completed action moves off-stage. One of the best uses of this revolve is 'The Phantom of the Opera' sequence, when hidden stairs emerge down the outer wall of the revolve, for the Phantom to descend with Christine into his lair, giving a depth to the underworld of the theatre that is much more effective than having them running across gantries high above the stage.

The transitions between front-of-house and backstage are managed brilliantly as well with two theatrical boxes on either side of the stage, which can revolve out of sight when not needed. This means when there is a scene where part of the backstage area is visible, as well as the stage and one box, it makes it very clear you are not simply seeing one part of the theatre, but the many facets.

The whole production design seems to be dealing with the concept of the divisions: backstage versus onstage, performance versus real, magic versus mundane, internal versus external, above versus below, light versus darkness.

I find this fascinating, because it also seems to parallel Christine's divided mental state throughout the show. This is a Christine walking on a fine line between madness and sanity, flanked by the two men who reflect the two sides of the line. You have Erik, the Phantom: fantastical, magical, supernatural, terrifying, monstrous. Counterpoint to him, you have Raoul: reliable, safe, strong, practical, realistic, handsome, so very, very normal.

It's such a different take, but I really like it. The fact that Christine says "he's with me, all around me ... it frightens me." - this is something that is overlooked in many version. It's a refreshing change to see her being genuinely afraid of this mysterious angel, and really showcases how unhealthy the relationship between the girl and her mentor is. This isn't a love story between Christine and the Phantom. This is a desperately lonely and broken soul gradually driving a young woman slowly mad with his need for her to accept him and learn from him.

In direct opposition, Raoul is her anchor, the stabilising point in her life. As pragmatic as Christine is vulnerable, he doesn't believe in ghosts or magic or angels, but what he does believe in is Christine. He can see she is broken. He can see she is teetering on the edge of madness, and he's the one to put out of his hand and offer to save her. He doesn't just pull her back, but he offers himself as a safety line. He lets her be the one to make the choice. All I Ask Of You is not just a love song, but a promise of "I'm not asking you to do anything or be anything for me. All I'm asking is that you trust me. Let me help you and I'll take care of you".

This is the biggest difference between the Phantom and Raoul in this production: everything Raoul does, he does for Christine's welfare. He hates compromising her well-being, to the point that he keeps himself from touching her when she is flinching away from her because he knows it won't help, but knows it's the only way to free her, and his fury at the Phantom is palpable. On the other hand, everything the Phantom does is for his obsession with Christine's voice. He doesn't seem to understand how he's hurting or damaging her, because he is so damaged himself.

The Opera Ghost isn't haunting the opera house. He's haunting Christine. He may be her angel of music, but he's also her puppetmaster, her shadow, her tormentor, and all the while, he doesn't realise it. He sees it only as cutting away at a raw gemstone, seeking perfection, and never realising the damage he's doing to her. But at the same time, he's chipping away at the fragility, and at the core, there is diamond.

Past the Point of no Return is no longer a seduction. This is Christine's battle cry. She has been rendered vulnerable. She had been afraid. She has had her life ripped from her control. Her emotions have been built up from Twisted Every Way and through Wishing You Were Somehow Here again until the Phantom steps into the performance of Don Juan Triumphant, and she is sick and tired of being played, used, tricked, deceived and manipulated.

The moment she realises who she is facing in that song, the moment she knows who is duetting with her, she turns it on him: this is what you want, this is what you're asking for, and I will stand here and I WILL FACE YOU. Not the mask. Not the role. I WILL FACE YOU, unmasked and bare and exactly as you are. This is Christine looking him in the eye and saying flat out "I will not be afraid anymore. We've past the point of no return. No more fear. No more angel. No more ghosts. No more magic mirrors and games and illusions. Face me. FACE ME."

And that is the point when the Phantom is nothing more than a man to her. When she faces him in the final confrontation in the lair, that is when she is strong enough and brave enough to offer herself to the Phantom to save Raoul. Now, she is willing to do as Raoul has: his life is a prize for you to earn. This is why Raoul and Christine work together: the most important thing in their life is the person they love and they will do anything for that person. And that's what the Phantom finally understands, and that is why he lets her go.

This is a much more emotional, psychological production: it deals with the affect the Phantom has on Christine, and in turn, how that affects her interaction and relationship with Raoul. It is a much more Gothic take on the story, as opposed to the love story which many productions focus on, and for that reason, I found it very compelling to watch. Unlike most other productions, I was ridiculously happy when she and Raoul escaped together. Naturally, there was pity for the Phantom, but like him, I could see it was healthier and happier for her to be free to live. The reprise of All I Ask of You has never been more poignant for this couple who have been put through hell to save one another, and are stronger for it.

Also, for the record, I have never seen a Phantom show which doesn't just have the epic make-out session. This was the first one I've seen with a single kiss followed by an embrace, and that is so much more significant. A kiss is something intimate, something sexual, but a hug is such a human gesture, something that every person takes for granted, and the Phantom had never even had that. For me, the hug is so much more significant than the kiss, because it's saying that Christine isn't just going to be his sex-moppet, but she is going to take care of him and comfort him too. That's such a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Now, to the cast.

Katie Hall as Christine - I have to start with her, because really, this show was all about this woman being broken down by the man who professes to love her and finding her feet when the man who truly loves her puts out his hand and pulls her back from the brink of madness.

Her fragility and fear was so well-played. It was easy to believe that this was an innocent chorus girl pushed in at the deep end, and so desperately lost without her father. Her vulnerability throughout the first act grew more and more intense until she was literally standing on the edge of the Opera House roof and only Raoul's presence saved her.

The second act showed how her fate was wearing on her, so much so that Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again was less of a lament to a lost father and more of a "To hell with it all, I am going to live!" anthem. This and Point of no Return were an incredible turn of acting, where the vulnerable girl finally kicked away the shackles of her past and said "Enough! No more!".

The confrontation in the lair was spectacular. The Phantom may have been physically dominant, but this Christine stood her ground, did not back down and went toe to toe with him, unafraid. And the final straw, the final thing to push her was the threat to Raoul's life. That was the moment she was the bravest Christine I have ever seen. Her journey from terrified chorus girl through to the bold hero was a beautiful thing to watch, and that incredible transition was the reason it was so very powerful.

Katie's voice is also epic for such a wee, wee person. Wishing and the final scene in the lair gave me shivers especially. She has come on so much from the last time I saw her as Cosette in the Les Mis anniversary tour a couple of years ago. I'm very excited to see where she will go from here.

John Owen Jones as the Phantom - flawless. No other word will do.

Again, another UK Mis tour veteran, he still remains my favourite Valjean. His voice is incredible, and his Phantom was such a fascinating take. The Music of the Night became less of a seduction and more of a lesson. This is a Phantom who loves music and wants to share it, rather than steaming in, all seduction weapons blazing.

And yet, the passion was there, simmering, intense and desperate below the surface, and that could be seen in the tremor of the hand, the looks, and way he so cautiously reached out to Christine at her father's grave. The fury and the frailty was so wonderfully played. The final 20 minutes was absolutely blinding from his sweetly desperate confession of love before she unmasked him, to his rage in the lair, and then his devastated understanding as he set her free.

I'll cheerfully admit I'm a sucker for more broken Phantoms, but this one was excellent. It was great to see a Phantom who was acting in a way that was more paternal with Christine, especially during Music of the Night, and never forgetting that he was a teacher until he thought he was going to lose her. And no one, no one at all, can rival his voice as Phantom. No one I have seen at all in the last 17 years. Brava, brava, bravissima.

Simon Bailey as Raoul - This chap was a lovely Raoul. I was so glad to get a closer look on the second evening, because we really missed a lot of the subtleties of his performance from way up in the rafters. He played Raoul as such a compassionate man, so completely in love with Christine, and in All I Ask of You especially, this is a man who can see his loved one is teetering on the brink of madness, and will to all and anything he can to help her.

One of my favourite moments was in "Twisted every way", when Christine is being pressed into playing a part in Don Juan Triumphant and Raoul reaches for her. When she flinches away from his touch, he spent the rest of the scene holding himself so restrained, his hands twitching by his sides, as if he wanted nothing more than to hug her and comfort her, but didn't want to make her flinch from him in fear again.

This was what made it a counterpoint to the Phantom as well - Raoul could see she was scared and jumpy, and knew enough to offer his hands, and let her have the decision and the control of the situation. He gives her the power in the relationship to choose whether she wants to accept him, whereas the Phantom tends to steamroller in and be very hands-on and demanding. The only demand Raoul makes is that she lets him make her happy. That is a proper love interest right there.

And yay for an intelligent Raoul! I loved the fact that in Notes and throughout Prima Donna, he spent the whole time going through all the letters, trying to find a pattern and interrogating the Girys for some kind of explanation. Everyone else is too busy going "CARLOTTA! OMG DON'T GO!", but M'sieur le Vicomte is being sensible and practical about the whole thing.

It doesn't hurt that he looks like a respectable Regency hero either :) I think I have a favourite Raoul.

Angela M Caesar as Carlotta - This lady is a gem, and really, the most emotionally interesting Carlotta I've seen. I've never actually seen a Carlotta in tears after the Phantom's first attack-of-sandbags, where you could actually see it was beyond frustration and impatience, and well into genuine distress. She stole all the scenes she was in, especially the shameless flirting with M'sieur Andre.

And was especially impressed by the Poor Fool scene, which it looks like she adlibs the frogginess every night, because it was different on both nights. She was such a great character, and such a massive voice. And really, she played the diva perfectly :D

Andrew Hockly and Simon Greene as the Managers - These characters can either be done really, really well or just be the most snore-inducing part of the show, and this pair were the former. Andre was a complete opera and music fanboy, so excited by everything he was seeing and hearing, while Firmin was his belligerent and more practical partner.

I especially giggled myself silly when Andre was asking Carlotta to sing and Firmin was practically knocking his head off the wall in frustration, because his partner is so clearly excited like a schoolboy. I had a lot of fun watching them :)

Elizabeth Marsh and Hannah Cadec as the Girys - I liked a Meg. I think my paradigm just shifted o.0 I'm never a fan of Meg, because she's so often too cutesy and sweet, but this Meg was stampy and tempestuous as well and I really liked that.

And this Madam Giry, so fierce :D I loved her cane-thumping.

On the whole, brilliant cast, great performance, fascinating take on the story that has been done so many ways and brilliant all round with set, costume, look and atmosphere.
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