“Unleash your imagination” scream the ubiquitous posters for The Lord of the Rings – The Musical! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Well, with so much money thrown at the production the Whingers were rather hoping they could just relax into their seats and not have to imagine anything. They’d coughed up their hard-earned (or possibly in Andrew’s case the result of a little fingersmithery) money, why should they have to do the work?
Unleashing their vitriol was the only thing they were expecting to do.
Much has been made of the £25 million (if you include the Toronto staging) price tag. Still, that’s only half the cost of Damien Hirst’s latest opus “For the Love of God”. Imagine – Damien could break it up for bling and be his own Lord of the Rings. Or he could stage the show twice if he were so inclined.
But we digress. Swaying along en route to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Phil adjusted his lorgnettes and spotted some small print on the tickets which advised that “pre-show entertainment starts 15 minutes before the performance”.
He was on the verge of the vapours: just how long would the whole evening last? It was reputedly four hours long at one stage in Toronto. Would it be over before Andrew turned into a pumpkin?
Andrew – in a rare moment of compassion – felt rather sorry for the cast. He whipped out his abacus and eventually calculated that on top of everything else they have to do eight times a week (not to mention risking life and limb on the much vaunted million pound revolve), some of them were working an extra two hours. Andrew was considering calling health and safety and reading up on the Working Time Regulations.
Anyway, due to the fact that there was wine to be drunk and that previous reports had suggested a three-and-a-half hour running time, the Whingers had left it to the last possible moment and succeeded in catching only the last moments of this “entertainment” which seemed to consist of hobbits running round the auditorium chasing fireflies and some supposedly spontaneous country dancing on the stage. Things weren’t looking good, but to be fair it might have been brilliant earlier on. Might have been.
Thankfully the real show began on time and the Whingers settled back for what they had been in training for for weeks: a very long evening looking at a very nice set.
And, really, everything we heard is right. We even agreed with Lady Skipper and that hasn’t happened (albeit on a matter of principle) since 1978 and the disagreeable incident over the choice of cheese for the fondue party.
The staging is incredible. The spectacle is extraordinary. The staging is magnificent. The lighting is astonishing. The effects are stunning. (Andrew – Stop trying to get quoted on the posters. It’s pathetic. – Phil).
As for the other elements…
Fortunately J.R.R. Tolkien’s plot (when it can be followed), has been clipped to such a extent it resembles those keynotes used for pre-exam cramming school-children did in the days before “continuous assessment” and copying off the Internet.
The programme helpfully presents a summary of the plot so the Whingers assumed they weren’t the only ones to be sitting in the audience scratching their heads as they tried to keep up.
Now, the Whingers are quite accustomed to not understanding what’s going on, but this was in a different league. At one point there was a reference to Gandalf going to see someone called Tom Bombadil but Andrew couldn’t recall this character appearing or even having been mentioned before. A quick Internet search revealed that:
Tom Bombadil is the prevailing mystery in Tolkien’s work. While almost every other aspect of Middle-earth is described for us in exacting (we think they probably mean excruciating) detail, Tom is an enigma. We have almost no clue of his origins or his fate, his purpose or even what kind of being he is.
So one would have thought that Tom Bombadil would be one of the first things you’d cut if you were looking to condense three hefty tomes into three hours. Perhaps it was an in-joke.
But while the programme might help with the plot, it is of no use whatsoever when it comes to the songs (other than admitting to who wrote them). Nope, no song list at all. One needs say nothing more really.
But we will anyway.
The music is by A.R. Rahman (Bombay Dreams) and Värttinä (“Finland’s most successful contemporary folk group” according to the programme). Towards the beginning it sounded occasionally like the theme from The Last of the Summer Wine but it settled down into a kind of Riverdance/Enya mashup. Don’t ask us to hum any of it; we couldn’t.
Occasionally this was because they weren’t in English. Some woman sang in a foreign language for a while and then swapped to English at which point Andrew managed to catch a few phrases such as “let the sunlight free the heart” and “the tides of our life are turning” before deciding the effort wasn’t worth it and plugging in his iPod.
There were a couple of big numbers involving hobbits waving their arms around. Was this hobbit sign-language? The Whingers wished they’d brushed up on theirs as it was the only way they were going to understand the songs.
It certainly has its moments, both Gollum and Galadriel make spectacular entrances (Gollum crawls head-first down the curtain) and the incredible climax to Act One almost took Andrew’s hair-piece to the back of the stalls. Neither Whinger can recall ever experiencing the rush of wind in the stalls before (except for the time Andrew came off his cabbage soup diet).
West End illusionist Paul Kieve who did such great things in Our House and Theatre of Blood pulls off some great effects, but Andrew would say that as he met Paul about 10 years ago and persists in referring to him as his “friend” although Phil has seen no evidence to support this. Certainly he wasn’t at the West End Whingers party.
There’s also an impressive scene with a giant spider which creeps up behind Frodo but unfortunately the moment was ruined when the beast fired what looked to be a party-popper from its mouth. One of the fight scenes between Boromir and an orc featured the old sword-under-the-arm trick which was surprising.
In its favour, the show started bang on time, and finished a little over three hours later although – like the films – it dribbled on to its to conclusion way beyond the moment that it could have reasonably decided to call it a day.
A tip: the Whingers’ seats were towards the centre of row K in the stalls; they not only provided excellent sight-lines but provided ample leg room and afforded a close up of the Orcs (presumably unaware they were unaware) accosting a pregnant woman directly in front of the director’s seat. The Whingers feared another headline, with this time an audience member being rushed off to hospital.
The only downside to these seats, really, was being accosted by the director which isn’t something one generally worries about when seeing a show.
Actually, all in all, the Whingers quite enjoyed themselves but ultimately we are forced to agree with the director who says in today’s Evening Standard that “on paper The Lord Of The Rings – The Musical sounds crazy.”
As spectacle, it’s great. As a musical…
But don’t miss our exciting exclusive interview with the director!