Review: “The Phantom of the Opera” @ Birmingham Hippodrome

A spectacular production paying homage to the talents of Cameron Mackintosh and the extremely talented cast, the Hippodrome’s hosting of ‘Phantom’ was absolutely mind-blowing.

Having seen ‘Phantom’ at Her Majesty’s two years ago, it always felt it might be a competition. It was, but there were certainly no losers. Our HM cast were more haunting, more resonating, but the Hippodrome cast were passionate to the point of extremity; gone were the slow ghostly love scenes, replaced with bursts of love, anger, hate and drama. For instance, I left HM and spent so long working over my pity for the despairing Phantom (John Owen Jones), whereas at the Hippodrome Earl Carpenter’s Phantom’s wild ‘please!’ when Christine (Katie Hall) first steals his mask made it more immediate, and likewise his scream at the end of ‘Masquerade’ made the threat more imminent. Both styles were fantastic to watch, and both were mesmerising. Perhaps this latest version was more suited to touring: a quick impact is needed for reviews in each region, whereas the stage and cast of HM has been specifically moulded over decades to suit the arena and the fact that it’s a tourist attraction without trying. People go to it, whereas now ‘Phantom’ is reaching out to people.

The biggest thing that struck me, particularly when I went home and watched the sequel again, is how Christine and Raoul’s relationship in this was a lot less founded on love and more on a need to escape the impending danger. Raoul (Simon Bailey) was more controlling and domineering, Christine a lot more lost and vulnerable, as seen by her (almighty!) slap when being pressured into performing. It actually made ‘Love Never Dies’ make more sense; the cracks were already visible, it was clear that the Phantom had room to return, both physically and within Christine’s own mind. This Raoul wasn’t a lover, he was a businessman wanting his way, and it worked well in creating a more frantic and emotionally driven Christine.

What also struck me was that there was more laughter in this production: from Carlotta’s (Angela Caesar) hilarious reactions to being called a toad, to the grammatical witticism of ‘wrote’ and ‘written’, people were chuckling frequently post-interlude. Again, this is credit to the immediacy of the actors; everything was timed to engage and involve the audience.

The staging was spectacular: the effort into making this a show that could fit any stage was obvious. For example, moving to the depths of the Phantom’s lair was spooky yet breathtaking – particularly the candles dropping from the rafters, showing a use of the stage that avoids assuming the use of the ground is feasible. My favourite part were the revolving sets (I’m informed it’s very similar to the New York Broadway version); despite how it might sound, the revolving stages were deftly handled and clearly guided the audience through the plot. It also made it more spectacular when the stage was expanded; the growth of scenery in the ‘Masquerade’ sequence gave more grandeur alongside a feeling of vastness that showed how lost and alone Christine had become.

‘Phantom’ is on at the Hippodrome until 4th May 2013 – experience the music of the night, and the phenomenal talents on display, and be prepared to experience an explosion of emotions simultaneously.

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