Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Phantom Menace

It's not common for me to see the same show twice in one year in Melbourne, but here I am reviewing Phantom a second time in as many blog posts. At this rate, I'll be forced to cite before the year is out...

I promised myself that I would not make comparisons between the two productions (CLOC's and Windmill's), but there's one parallel I will draw. In my review of CLOC's show, one of the follow spot operators was specifically cited for doing a spectacular job. In one of those twists of fate that prove that nothing's a coincidence, the follow spotting in this Phantom was of similarly high standard, with the programme naming Patsi Boddison as head follow spot operator. (Also, peculiarly, CLOC's show had four named spot operators and only three spots operating on any given night, while Windmill's had three operators named in the programme and four spots in use - one late addition to the crew.) And that is the end of all mention of CLOC's Phantom in this post.

Phantom is a huge show, demanding extensive sets and costumes, and a good-sized cast of competent performers. I don't know whether it demands lighting like it got tonight, but it sure got the benefit! The aforementioned four spots were part of a suite of LX that included deckles (if that's the right spelling) on moving lamps, lights that shone across the audience during the opening, and all the usual facilities of a well-designed lighting rig. (I do take issue, though, with some of the moving lamps. They moved at constant speed and then stopped abruptly, which at times was extremely distracting - such as when Raoul and Christine are on the rooftop, everything's dim and quiet, and nothing's moving rapidly. Having two patterned lights swing up and lock into their new positions felt somewhat jarring. But everything else was excellent.)

I unfortunately neglected to bring a notebook with me, so my notes from the first act had to be scribbled all over my left hand, and as someone who knows the back of his hand like, well, the back of my hand, I know there's not a lot of room there. So all I can report is the things that were really amazingly awesomely impressive. And of the notes I have, two stand out. Firstly, the "Think of Me" transition (where Christine goes from being a nervous chorus girl to being the star of the show) was magnificently backed by Kate's beautiful smile - right at the very moment of transition, bright and cheerful. And second, just a little further on, the mirror in Christine's room (the one she looks at her face in to see the phantom) was truly reflective and then truly transparent for Erik's reveal. Must have been a bit of a headache for the lighting design, making sure nothing could dazzle the audience off it, but it looked great.

Oh, and I hope nobody will slaughter me for being just a little irreverent here, but I did get the feeling that the Phantom's "Sing! Sing! Sing!" commands were rather like saying "Speak!" to a dog... and if Christine sang much higher, she'd probably get into dog-hearing-only range. Okay, I'll get back to making useful comments now... promise!

Convention in my reviews is to have one massive paragraph in which I ramble from one character to another, loosely or tightly linking across them, with real-life names for the benefit of web searches. After all, people who do a good job at something should be rewarded with the opportunity to do it again - amateur theatre follows the pinball reward system. The title role being a good place to start, I will do so. Erik (Richard Thomas) disgusts me as a character and impresses me as a performance. Really, if he'd been drawn and quartered, he would still have been getting off lightly. His treatment of Christine starts out controlling, then gets worse from there. Everyone else is just fodder - do his will or die as an example to the others. He hangs Joseph Buquet (Paul Holmes) just for knowing too much (the guy made a fine flyman, his only fault was talking too loudly about the phantom), and then murders Piangi (Robert Barbaro) the same way, for no reason other than to take his place. Both of them competent at their jobs, both of them played by competent performers. Both cut down in their composites (I can hardly say that a man of Piangi's age is "in his prime") by a madman who ultimately just wants to force a young girl into marriage with him. And yet after all that, Christine (Kate Amos), still has enough compassion in her heart to want to show him that he's not alone. She will make a most tender and loving wife to one whom she really loves. There is a wealth of love within that little heart, stored up for - I wonder whom? Actually it's not much of a spoiler, it's all for Raoul (Chris Buchanan) and they have some very tender, very yearning, very precious moments together. They have what is commonly called "chemistry", but I never was able to find "great actor" and "great actress" on the periodic table, so I'm somewhat at a loss there. Must be a human thing I guess. Raoul takes command and solves problems. He'll make a great husband for a low-marble Christine; it's thanks to him that she didn't have a classic operatic mad scene after the second-act office encounter. Though in Raoul's absence, it's likely that Meg Giry (Madeleine Magetti) would have stepped up to that task; though the two aren't together all that much, the time they do spend together is befitting of close friends. I would just hope that a totally off-her-nut Christine wouldn't meet Carlotta (Cassandra Beckitt, with whom I've had the pleasure of working a couple of times in G&S Opera Victoria shows), or the nearest prop would quickly become evidence in a murder investigation... the utter contempt and scorn shown is nothing short of impressive. And to round off this brief (ha!) skim through the cast, Mme Giry (Maureen Andrew) was right: this company should rightly take great pride in the quality of its ballet. Ensemble precision was notable at several points, such as the Masquerade scene and the opening Hannibal number (not in that order). Excellent work.

I'd like to close with one remark which is a bit of a spoiler, so go watch the show if you haven't. Stop reading now, come back when it's okay for spoilers. Ready? Good. Toward the end of the show, Raoul is caught by the Phantom's noose (which would have demanded a fly line to go a long way out - I'm guessing pretty much as far as it possibly could), and then when Christine expresses sympathy for the Phantom's fate, he pulls out his gun and shoots the rope above Raoul's head, severing it and releasing his rival tenor. It is the culmination of a technically excellent show, with an unremarkable rope cleverly concealing a breakpoint. An excellent show, enjoyably performed.

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