Guest review – The Lord of the Rings (the musical!)

Sunday 13 May 2007

Lord of the Rings logoAlthough they may not seem so, the Whingers are committed to balanced reporting. Indeed, Phil always has a glass of wine balanced atop his rusty Remington while writing typing his reviews.

So we were a bit concerned that as people who like musicals but don’t care much for Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings was in danger of not getting a fair review. So we pinned down a close acquaintance who does like Tolkein but doesn’t care for musicals and this guest review is what Lady Skipper had to report.

We have naturally had to add a few annotations and edit a few rough edges but – not wishing to be accused of censorship – we have ensured that all changes are wholly transparent…

On Bank Holiday Monday this guest reviewer bumped into the Whingers at a barbeque (We think you’ll find it’s barbecue – or do you think that if you put a “q” in it, more people will come? It’s a bit like the blackboards found outside pubs in the summer that advertise a “BBQ” – is that laziness or zaniness or merely an effort to save money on chalk? Sorry, we digress; it’s your review) .

“Will you be going to see the new stage production of The Lord of the Rings?” they asked with an arch leer in the professionally polite manner used by Royalty when addressing plumbers at civic openings .

“Not bloody likely,” I replied, “given that I’m a fan of the original oeuvre and have a fear and loathing of all modern productions where there is a danger of the cast inexplicably bursting into song.”

HobbitsThree days later, I find myself sitting as a favour (To whom exactly? – Andrew), in the dress circle (What’s a “dress circle”? Is that the upstairs bit? What’s one like? – Phil) of the Theatre Royal watching with slack jaw (Nice of you to be so refreshingly open about your physiognomy but there’s really no need – Andrew) some pre-action “business” involving some dear little hobbits (left: and the mystery of who snapped up all the knitwear Phil took down to Oxfam is solved).

Until then I hadn’t been aware that Michael Flaherty (Did you mean Flatley? You see it’s not as easy as it looks, is it? – Phil) was a hobbit. Never before have I been so grateful for the numbing effects of a well-mixed martini. Or three. (We know the feeling! We’re going to leave you in peace and have one now – Andrew & Phil)

The Lord of the Rings The Musical The StageHowever, the stage did look wonderful (right). We were viewing the Shire through a forest growing out from the proscenium arch, and the centre-piece was the door to Bilbo’s hobbit hole which ingeniously doubled as a portent of Sauron’s eye.

And then off we go on our helter-skelter journey through the tattered remains of JRR Tolkien‘s great work.

Let’s face it, if you have the hubris to believe that you can condense three volumes of dense prose into three hours, you have to be pretty deft with your pinking shears. There again, you can just set at it with the approach that you’ll simply elide anything and everything that might be a bit complex or demanding. So we bounce from Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party (cue a song) to the Prancing Pony (cue a really big number – so jolly) in a breathless whirl.

There was a very clever staging of Bilbo’s disappearance at the end of the party when he puts on the ring, and the horror of the Dark Riders was alluded to, but it was all a terrible jumble. Suddenly, we arrive in Rivendell where there were a lot of elves floating. Again, wonderfully staged.

Indeed, this is a major theme throughout the entire evening: the staging was everything. The central revolving section, which elevated and descended in various sections, was put to great use and allowed some deft scene changes whilst conveying the physical journey being undertaken.

ArwenAnyhow, back to Rivendell where I was captivated by Arwen’s (left) vertical hand movement that started at her forehead and ended at her solar plexus. I think it was an elvish greeting; I have certainly been practicing it ever since.

Frodo recovers from being stabbed by a dark rider’s dagger (I can’t remember it happening, but maybe they sung about it), Bilbo reappears, as does Gandalf, and they have a hasty Council of Elrond with what appeared to be a guest appearance by Whoopi Goldberg reprising her role as Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation, wearing one of her improbable hats (below).

Super, super, let’s establish the Fellowship of the Ring without much ado and get on with the show.

Oh, did I mention the showdown between Gandalf and Saruman? Well, it did occur, but Gandalf’s want of stage presence, and the fact that Saruman put me bizarrely in mind of Loyd Grossman, rather detracted from the drama of it.

So we tumble on. We are introduced to Saruman’s orcs, the Uruk-hai. They were very full of wicked energy, given that most had to prance around on crutches. The lucky ones got to wear those bouncy stilt things which I guess in someone’s crazed mind made them doubly scary. I just wanted to have a go myself.

Then off to the Mines of Moria. Speak Friend, and Enter. Speak Yikes, and get the hell out the theatre. But of course, in we go, Pippin drops a stone down the well and the game is up. Gandalf stands front of stage facing the audience and proclaims as fiery light surrounds him that the Balrog, for it is he, will not pass. Unfortunately for poor Gandalf, the Balrog appeared from the centre of the stage, prompting the natural desire to cry out “It’s behind you!”

Sigh. I think at this point we were given a temporary release and allowed to get to the bar. Of course the respite is all too brief. There are still two volumes to be played out. There were Ents, who were played by actors on breathtakingly high stilts. They were truly stunning, but of course time would not permit more than a brief treatment of their role within the story.

The battle of the Hornburg took some three minutes or so, and seemed to involve no less than, oh, at least ten orcs. After that my attention wandered, along with the flotsam and jetsam of Tolkien’s plot. Shelob was impressive as was the final casting of the ring into the Crack of Doom. Taking its cue from the Jackson film, the end-play of the scouring of the Shire and the departure of the Elves, Gandalf and Frodo was over-extended, with Galadrial singing her pretty little heart out for way too long and for no good reason.

Did any acting stand out particularly? Not really, though Michael Therriault‘s Gollum deserves a mention, as does his costume. As has been said earlier, the production was wonderfully staged and there were certainly “wow” moments.

Unfortunately, that really was it. About half an hour before the end there was a hiatus when I assume something had to be fiddled with backstage. At this point, orcs and suchlike spilled out into the audience, presumably to terrify us into staying in our seats. They need not have worried: the entire production had terrified me into immobility.

Of course, when the curtain finally fell some sections of the audience jumped wildly to their feet applauding like hobbits at a firework party. I suspect that they were suffering from the English curse whereby you’re in a restaurant eating a terrible meal and carping about it when the waiter comes up and asks “Is everything alright?” whereupon to a person the diners all chime “Oh, yes, lovely thanks”.

The West End Whingers would like to thank Lady Skipper for her sterling work and to point out that the taking of photographs within the auditorium is strictly forbidden. Thank you.

29 Responses to “Guest review – The Lord of the Rings (the musical!)”

  1. Lord of the Rings = good thing.

    Musical = good thing.

    Lord of the Rings + Musical = terrifying thing. Mainly due to that gallon into a fluid ounce pot problem mentioned.

    This review did make me laugh. Thank you. I’m still slightly tempted to go see, though mainly out of morbid curiosity.

  2. Gil Says:

    “Let’s face it, if you have the hubris to believe that you can condense three volumes of dense prose into three hours, you have to be pretty deft with your pinking shears.”

    That’s hilarious. I have no idea what the hell the second of that half means, but I’d rather just read it again to myself than Google it.

    Oh you Britishfolk!

  3. J.A. Says:

    It’s a shambles. V dodgy writing!

  4. Lou Says:

    why are you reviewing it when it hasn’t even officially opened yet? They are still tweaking in places.

  5. You are being satirical, aren’t you, Lou? “Tweaking in places” – yeah, that’s what it needs.
    And let’s knock this “preview” thing on the head once and for all. If it’s not ready to be seen, don’t show it. And if you must show it, make it clear that it’s not ready and charge accordingly.
    The preview stalls price is £50; once it has opened, the seats will cost £60 (“a per ticket booking fee of up to £2.50 and a £1.00 per transaction processing fee applies” obviously and that’s only fair really because, ummm, well anyway…)
    Hardly a bargain.

  6. db Says:

    I’m interested to see this, just for the geeky-technical stuff. Might go for one of the cheap cheap seats!

  7. Jane Says:

    Oh, how I agree with Lady Skipper’s review. Technically the show is brilliant with some clever effects but this is no compensation for a very disappointing show. So much to whinge about! The weird hand movements of the elves had me in hysterics – Legolas in the mines of Moria appeared to be playing shadow puppets! It was comical and very distracting. And were those French accents I heard for some of the elves? Mercy me! The hobbits looked like they were wearing Pampers. Pippin had morphed into a GAY HOBBIT – unbelievably camp performance. Rest of the hobbits sounded like simple-minded West Country bumpkins – imagine the Worzels singing “I am a cider drinker” and you’ve got it. As for the Ents – I was puzzled about the accents adopted. I waited for Treebeard to announce “Aye oop lass, kettle’s on. Let’s have a brew.” Very strange. It was never a frightening or tense show because they kept dropping in stupid moments of comedy – a little too pantomine for my taste. The orcs popping in and out of the theatre boxes, making people scream, made them ridiculous, not frightening. Gandalf was so bad he should be sacked immediately and replaced with someone with more stage presence (and who can remember his lines!!). All characters were very sketchy – apart from Gollum, played by Michael Therrialut who was super (albeit borrowing heavily from Andy Serkis.) Robbie Scotcher played Strider on our night and he was also one of the other more believable characters. The musical goes down the film route of having Aragorn as a reluctant king – in the books he’s well up for being the next King of Gondor. Sevan Stephan, playing Gimli, has a ridiculous voice (were his trousers too tight?!) – I had to bite my lip to stop laughing everytime he opened his mouth. There were too few goosebumpingly moving moments – though the beautiful voice of Laura Michelle Kelly was a treat and the song about Lothlorien was the only potential showstopper song (but it went on a bit). I have a feeling Tolkein would have hated this show. It lacked depth and emotion and I really believe they producers shouldn’t have bothered.

  8. Ooh, Jane. You don’t pull any punches, do you? We’re going to get another loads of whiney comments now saying “it’s only a preview”

    Thanks for adding your two cents to the debate. Perhaps they should bring back The Wurzels and have done with it.

  9. Jessica Says:

    You really are a bunch of idiots

  10. Tim Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Jane. I saw the show on the first preview night. Given the fact that it was a ‘preview’ it was pretty much what is in the review and what Jane wrote. It’s worth going for the effects and stage sets, and possibly costumes. – I fell in love with the stage. Though the poor actor who broke his legs recently. Bless. Apart from Galadriel’s stunning performance, the other characters were shoddy, and singing was quite surprisingly painful at certain parts. Acting was average. The songs didn’t quite work very well, or were too long-winded. – I have to mention the songs the Hobbits are so fond of ‘Sit by the Fire, blah blah blah blah…’ It sounded like a bleeding nursery rhyme and a bad one at that. Gandalf was a big let down by the way. The war scenes were awful – with hillarious so called fighting sequences. Worst of all, there were so many parts of the dialogues that were so cheesy it made me cringe. Especially the death scene of Boromir – I was trying so hard not to burst out laughing. Overall, good staging but apart from that, there are way better shows/musicals in the West End.

  11. A.Teach Says:

    What more can you add!
    Spent half term doing the rounds of shows – glad I saw it first as things just got better; whilst “Cabaret” is classy, dark and challenging”, Wicked” was and is Wicked! So whilst the “Rings” has the edge on the set, or rather too many edges to fall off, which is why maybe why the actors don’t look comfortable moving around it, it has such a badly cobbled script that the actors are forced to almost ham it up at times so that it doesn’t sound too trite, and any brooding mystery and depth of character that may have elicited empathy is gone in a alienating accent. If they’d stuck to using variations of folk music there might have been some unity but as it is the attempts to give some characters and regions a voice ended in incoherent, poorly balanced sound that made them inaudible even when the language was English!
    As a straight play it might have worked but as a musical – NO! and it needs to lose 20-30 mins as the final two thirds drag – where was the pace? Lost in the labrynth of time and space to cover so much in so little time!

  12. peter james Says:

    You are a very very sad group of individuals!!!! Life isn’t all bad. If you go out sometimes and stop treating life with such contempt, you may make some friends. Even better….you may get laid!!!! Oh, no, lets not push it.

  13. “Get laid”, Peter? What’s that got to do with anything? I think you’ll find your psychological flies are undone.

  14. Brandon Says:

    This show is amazing you most go see don’t listen to all the negative people out will take your breathaway….as for the people that say Lord of the Rings shouldn’t be a MUSICAL read the books!!!! They are full of music …Gollum is truely amazing and for some of you to say he is just mediocre is just a disgrace!…. I’d like to see you try to do what he does and the music in this show is incredible and please don’t comment on the show if you haven’t seen it ….seriously that’s just lame!! has some videos you can watch for those you you who haven’t seen it…

  15. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    I’d like to see you try some of the things we do…

  16. Charlie Says:

    After hearing some of the comments that have been posted about Lord of the Rings I was wondering whether I had wasted the £120 it cost for me and my partner to go and see it. I have been a huge fan of the films as well, where as my partner was more reluctant to go and see it as the lord of the rings isn’t really his cup of tea. From walking into the theatre we were both instantly amazed, and throughout the production this continued. The first Act was definaughtly my favourite, many of the actors were great, the only actor that was a little disappointing was Gandalf, as he spoke too quickly and his performance was not that believable, for everyone else i have nothing but praise! If you go to see it Gollum/Smeagle will blow your mind away! The special effects are out of this world, money well spent!!!
    The costumes are beautifully made, and the choreography brillaint too.
    The orks were my favourite, their movement were so real and similar to what appeared through the films.
    Music complimented the story well!!!
    I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS TO ANYONE! In my opinion the first half is much better than the second, but even the second is not disappointing!
    Well worth the money, and if I could give anyone advise I would buy the most expensive seats, as you get a few suprises from the production!!!
    Well worth going to see!!!!!

  17. Andy Roberts Says:

    Somebody mentioned bringing back the Wurzels – Oh, ok then.

    Lord of The Rings is a strange choice for a London theatre to turn into a musical, so I think a lot of people will go out of curiosity, without high expectations. They may even be pleasantly surprised.

  18. william Says:

    Looks great, and thankyou finally for a good review!

  19. Ryan Says:

    Dear God. This was terrible. If you know the films and/or books, you will be dissapointed about the amount that has been cut out, if you haven’t, confusion may arise. The acting was poor, the songs were poor, the music, was poor. The cast were poor. The voices of the cast, were terribly annoying, especially Gimli’s. It was a dissapointing, boring, tried to be funny but failed, show. I would not reccomend this to anyone who, well, just plain anone.

    • john Says:

      im sorry i disagree, they had to fit three books into three hours, of course they are going to miss stuff out….thats just logic, and they even missed out pointless stuff in the movies aswell…not all of the songs are bad, the theme of this is celtic music, screeching and 3 part hatrmonies is wat celtic music is about, there were beautiful voices in this production, laura michelle kelly produced herself with the best of her ability, the set and costumes are mesmerising~!! seriously get your eyes open and ears open for some real musical theatre with a twist!!

  20. Denise Rodgie Says:

    I am no “proffessional critic”, but a mere lowly entrance fee paying member of the public, and I have to say as a treat for my mothers 70th birthday, I took her, among other things, to see the Lord of the Rings, and that id just what it was, a treat!

  21. georgie Says:

    I went to see lord of the rings at the west ends with my grandma and it was absolutely amazing.Meand my gran were just watching it with our mouths wide open.the effects and costumes where amazing,especially the dragon at the end of the first

  22. Ron Tolido Says:

    I guess this was not the intention, but every now and then I had to fight not to start laughing like a madman. This was a terrible show indeed. Some of the singing (like Frodo’s) is dreadful and so is the acting (Gandalf, for example is straight down irritating). Yes, the stage is brilliant and the special effects are definitely impressive. But we had to bear sitting for more than three hours and the last quarter was a real, real challenge. Boring! Two persons in the theatre stood up applauding. I guess that sums it up pretty well.

  23. Sofie Says:

    Well I’d never read the books, but I’m going again because I really did love it. I still don’t understand the story fully – three 7 hour movies and a 3 hour musical to tell the story of a bad ring that some guys destroy? What a joke.

    But I’m not here to criticise the story as I haven’t even seen the films.
    What I am here to say is

    you know the song “sit by the fire” by the hobbits, it stole the beginning of “sit by the fire, let the flame burn, open the door let jesus return” and I think we should sue the MDs.

    Also, it was really amazing. And the orcs were scary.. i thought. the only thing i have to say is that i hated gollums voice, it was like a piss take, I know he’s supposed to be schizo and tormented but that voice. bad choice.

    gandalf was awful too.
    overall 7

  24. Shonky Says:

    Went to see the show last week.

    Good Bits:-

    The Stage – Amazing – especially the revolving parts.
    The Hobbits and Orcs in the Audience – Nice touch
    Gollum – Excellent – best character acting of the show.
    The Spider (I still feel itchy)
    The Black riders – Considering it was basically a ‘Bernie Clifton’ it worked really well

    Bad Bits

    Gandalf – Awful – rushed his lines and no presence.
    The Balrog of Moria – Looked like something from Margate Carnival made of Bin Liners !!
    Shelob looked amazing … but why the the ‘Party String’ Web ?? Noooo !!
    Tree Beards Voice – “Trouble in t’op field Mr Wilks ”
    I cant stop humming “Sit by the Fire”

    All in all the characters just lacked depth (Gollum made up for all of them), but the amazing set still made it an enjoyable afternoon filler.

  25. nicky Says:

    okay so i have seen this musical four times already! and im all booked up for my fith visit!

    it is totally awsome, and i have fallen in love with it. everything from the cast, costumes and songs, to the stage and set design is just mind blowing.

    ive seen all the films, which again are brilliant, and am half way through reading the books, and yus i agree much of the story is sadly left out, but this is totally understandable, due to the amount of time a musical is allowed for such a production.

    i would encourage anyone to go and see this show and judge for themselves if they like it or not. i understand its not some peoples cuppa tea, but go with an open mind and eyes and i think you will be pleasantly suprised.

    i would give this show a super 10/10! its awsome, magical and breath taking all rolled into just sad that its leaving london so soon…

  26. nick Says:

    RAZEyr hi! hice site!

  27. Christoper Says:

    HELLO, well now this webpage can be up dated with a new opioion. Now LOTR is out of london and of around the world. its been a huge hit and personnally can see why. the music is fab and no one cant say that it wasnt. true at some moments i wanted nothing more then to shot an arrow at a stage hogging singer or annoyingly bad orc but i have to admit. i had fun. im a fan of musicals and a fan of Tolkein. I was impressed with the set, costumes and cheorogrpahy (cant spell) ‘The Cat and The Moon’ is a fantastic song with lots of great dancing. and when the elves sing.ohhh the harmonies are beautiful…well i gotta bail see ya round 😛

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