Although 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.”
Three 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)
However, 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.
Anyhow, 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.