Sunday, 26 May 2013

A voice to Daae for

The world amateur premiere of Phantom of the Opera with several friends in the cast? Unlikely I'll be missing that! It's a pity the one opportunity I had to go was the final night; otherwise I would have sought another ticket. Though, on reflection, it's entirely possible that that would have been too late. The house was quite full.

My hopes were, of course, fairly high for this show. I've worked with Laura Slavin (Christine) before, notably when she played the lead in OSMaD's My Fair Lady; Phantom is a fun show with good solid music in it (granted, all of it gets reused several times); and CLOC have a sterling reputation. My hopes were not weakened by a browse of the programme: naming Peter Turley against "Engineering", and seeing the various entries for "Armourer", "Fight Director", and especially "Pyrotechnics", lent the impression that this was going to be quite a show. This impression was not wrong.

(I will take one aside here, though. Whoever did the programme pushed the front cover pic too hard, and it came out on the back cover; at least, that's the only explanation I can think of for the Phantom's signature half-mask being over his LEFT eye.)

As the audience gathered, the curtain was out. We had a prime view of the post-apocalyptic theatre, with Lot 666 clearly on show. The air had some dust or fog in it, not much but enough that light beams were visible. And upstage, what once had been a beautiful backcloth was now hanging at a weird angle and sporting a rather nasty tear. Must have been interesting during bump-in and rehearsal and such - "Careful, don't wreck that cloth! It has to look wrecked!" - but as an effect, it worked well: once the "show proper" started, it was flown out, and somehow smoothly turned into the first backcloth for the real show.

Being very familiar with the film version of Phantom, I must inevitably make comparisons. The most notable difference was in the role of Carlotta. (CAUTION: Spoilers follow. If you don't know the storyline, go get the film and watch it. Unless this show was videoed? I hope it was. Anyway. Watch the show, one way or another, before reading on. Thanks. Right, now I'm safe to spoil stuff.) In the film version, Carlotta seems to be all prissy and stuck-up, with no redeeming features beyond an inexplicable ability to draw crowds. But CLOC's Carlotta (Samantha Du Rennes) came across far more sympathetic; her grievances regarding the managers' inability to stop "these things" from happening were quite legitimate, and she appeared to be voicing what most or all of the company were thinking. In the film, I'm solidly on the managers' side; in this version, I would almost be supporting Carlotta, except that she walks out on a show on opening night. That, as Jack Point says, I can't let pass.

This review is somewhat stream-of-consciousness, so I'll take a bit of a jump here and quote directly one of my notes: "Pencil dambust monkey ++". No, I don't write in code... not as such. The monkey (music-box) in the auction scene (and, incidentally, again later on) was picked up by a follow spot - a very small spot ("pencil"); in fact, two spots at once ("dambust" - if you've seen the movie about the Dambusters and how they solved their altitude problem, it involved two angled lamps striking a single target, pretty much as follow spots would). I consider the result to be excellent ("++"). And that was only the beginning of a superb performance from the follow spot operators. According to the programme, there were four named, but only three spotlights were visible; there was one mobile lamp on the FOH bar, so either that was another operated spot, or not everyone was on each night. Either way. No matter. The spots (three of them, and for Christine's "Think of Me" solo, all pointed at one person!) were manned expertly, tracking even fast-moving cast members (like when Christine and Raoul are running around the stage), and were especially notable at the very end of the show. This was quite a piece of work, and I feel it's appropriate to "name and fame" here. Meg picks up the Phantom's mask (I did warn of spoilers already). Patsi Boddison, on spots, picked it up and kept it in a circle of light barely bigger than the mask itself, even while Meg moved it around and showed it off. Having done a few shows' worth of spotting myself, I know that that represents a HUGE amount of skill. Patsi, congrats! Not everyone will know what it took to do that, but everyone will have seen that it *just worked*. All three/four of you, your work tonight was... with apologies to John Spartan... *spot* on.

Flashier but shorter-lived than spotlights: Pyrotechnics! Used to great effect. Pyro's always good fun, and this show didn't skimp. Backed well by the lighting and other movements (with the one exception of the falling chandelier, which visibly stopped a bit before hitting the ground - obvious safety requirement, but it did damage the illusion). Sound was such that everyone could be heard, though to the detriment of the use of sound to locate people - everyone's sound came from the speakers, so you can't figure out who's singing by where the voice is. But it meant that the Phantom's voice fitted in with everyone else's, even coming from the back of the auditorium. Scene changes were swift and smooth. After Christine sings "Think of Me", the scene shifts seamlessly to the POV from behind the curtain as she takes her bows. The scrim hiding the phantom in the mirror, the multi-level scenery, the grand staircase for the start of the second act - everything running perfectly. It's easy to notice when things go wrong; less obvious that there's a (presumably large) team of people backstage making things go right. And that boat... I don't know how it was done (my best theory currently is that it ran on powered and steered wheels, and was remote controlled from the wings or someplace), but it worked. It just worked. Slid over that fog (much of which ended up in the orchestra pit, can't have been pleasant) and carried folks anywhere the plot needed them to be :)

I don't know whether this belongs under technicals or cast... When the Phantom shows Christine what she'll be up for, she sees herself as a bride. The other-Christine then lurches forward with arms outstretched. Was this a cast member (maybe Meg Giry?)? Or was it a dummy? I have no idea. Either way, very effective.

As a show about theatre, Phantom is obviously going to have self-references in it. The scenes of rehearsals were face-palmingly accurate at times... similarly the sudden shifting of the ballet, which took everyone by surprise. Oh yes, we know how that goes!

Alright, fingers, enough stalling. Tell 'em how awesome Laura was as Christine. Alright brain, alright, gimme a moment. Lemme get my notes so I can rave with facts. Okay. She was a combination of River Tam (she almost said "It's getting very very crowded" just before exiting in the "Notes" scene), Eliza Doolittle (when she tells Erik that her tears are now of hate), and mainly, a poor heart-broken soprano who's lost most of her marbles and is trying to find them back. (I think Raoul has a jar of them on his desk, Christine; ask him.) In the office scene where everyone's telling her to play her part in the Phantom's opera, she suddenly screams something out (what, incidentally? If you know, please post it in the comments) and is clearly on the brink of a breakdown, until someone brings her a chair and a hug (in that order). Thank you. That was exactly what she needed, right then. Her solo scene afterward, wishing her father back again, was nothing short of beautiful. Marble count? Still low. But she's not stupid. She knows now to flee the Phantom's hypnotic attraction... unfortunately she fails her Will save, and he commands her once again. But Raoul (Patrick Hill) is there for her now. The two of them will do well together, thanks to the aforementioned marble jar. It's a fight for her mind, with Raoul and the Phantom (Toby Truscott) vying for supremacy. All three of them have superb voices, all three are brilliant actors, and all three won a serious amount of applause at the end of the show (all the more since there were so few moments to applaud in the middle). The show closed with a standing ovation, cliche though that sounds... and it was absolutely merited.

And they were backed by a great cast, too. I can't go into detail about everyone (from where I was, I can't pick out all the faces in the ensemble, particularly as I don't know most of the people), but Meg Giry (Lucinda Barratt) and her mother (Beryle Frees) both stand out as people I'd love to work with in one of our shows. The one thing most notable about the ensemble work is its precision; hand movements are in sync, everyone's working together as a cohesive whole.

It's an awesome show. If I write any more about it, I'll need to go to a thesaurus for more words of enthusiasm. Alas, the one regret: The last performance is finished. It's not here any more, the Phantom of the Opera!

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