There are certain shows that simply define our world. We see them occasionally – the odd show that reminds us why we do what we do.
The current Phantom tour is, without a doubt, one of those shows. It is a combination of genius set design, stunning lighting and crystal clear sound, complementing brilliantly flawless performances from the cast.
With some of the greats of British theatre behind this production – namely Mackintosh, Lloyd Webber, Constable, Bourne – there was never any doubt in my mind that this show would be anything short of spectacular. As I sat in Liverpool’s beautifully ornate Empire Theatre, the anticipation in the air around the audience was as dense as the haze which was highlighting one of the most wonderfully lit presets I have ever seen.
And it was only up from there, with Paule Constable’s lighting design unobtrusively adding to the magic of the performance, which centres around the fantastic Paul Brown designed set – which revolves, breaks apart, and is so tall the top is hidden well beyond the Empire’s proscenium. It was just brilliant, and collaboration between the stage design and lighting effects was clear throughout – be it motorised footlights disappearing into the stage, or candles flying in from above. I’ll not hide that I am a huge Constable fan – we’re learning about CMY mixing from the latest moving fixtures, whist Paule is still finding new ways to create awe with a par can – Play Without Words, for example. This show is another gem in her crown.
Bringing Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s opera ghost to life was not Earl Carpenter, as advertised, as he was unwell. So instead we had the imponderable joy of watching John Owen-Jones wear the mask instead. He was superb, if not a little quiet at times. Playing Christine Daae opposite him was Katie Hall, an actress I loved from Les Mis 25th Concert and was very keen to see her tackle the role written for Sarah Brightman 26 years ago. She did not disappoint, and played a perfect Christine all the way through.
This is a new, re-choreographed, re-directed Phantom, completely reshaped for this tour by the delightful Cameron Mackintosh. In the programme, he talks of how he once crafted a theatrical success with Hal Prince, Gillian Lynne and the stars – Crawford, Brightman and Barton. This new production, directed by Laurence Connor, choreographed by Scott Ambler and with Owen-Jones, Hall and Simon Bailey (Raoul) playing it on the boards, brings it right into today’s theatre. With the revolving set, brilliant effects, and the all-important, all-new flying chandelier, the show is a visual spectacle. The music of the night is brought to our ears by Mick Potter, and although at times it maybe could have been a little louder, the audio was clear as crystal, sounding as bright and operatic as this production should. Throw in some clever processing and pan effects and it was positively a treat. Talking of orchestras, the band were top notch, although could clearly be seen chatting and miming when not playing – and frankly I am getting bored of conductors who feel the need to ham up any minuscule acknowledgement they are given in the script. Yes, it’s all very good, but it is a crack in a fourth wall they probably should think about filling.
I’ve nothing bad to say about this production, and neither did the 2,300 other audience members who laughed, cried, and were awed along with me in the nearly-sold-out Empire. The tour continues to run, and is a must see. Technically it is superb, with a perfectly cast group of actors presenting the classic, dark tale of the Phantom of The Opera in a beautiful new manner. 9/10.