Thursday, 15 December 2011

Phantoms, Time Lords and Elder Things

On Monday night, my family and I went on an outing to Theatre Land, that garish and luvvie country nestled within Central London. My Dad treated us all to a night at Her Majesty's Theatre, to see the classic musical The Phantom of the Opera, now celebrating its 25th year. I love a musical, and it's been a good little while since I went to see one. Phantom was, I am pleased to say, absolutely fantastic. The early operatic moments were over the top, and I worried that the show might turn out to be rather naff. My concerns were totally unfounded; Phantom proved to be an astonishingly powerful play, with a roaring score backed by staggeringly effective sets and lightwork. It was the two-handed scenes that I enjoyed the most, particularly those that saw the Phantom (a rich performance by Earl Carpenter) in his attempts to woo Christine - played in this performace by Katie Hall, who isn't the regular for the role, something I don't understand, as she was perfect throughout. The entire cast were very good, although worth mentioning is Cheryl McAvoy as Madame Giry, and I've a particular soft spot for Anna Forbes as her daughter Meg, the ballerina.

Although I was familiar with the story before, this is the first time I had actually experienced the tale. The Phantom is one of the classic monsters, made famous by the Univseral silent movie in 1925, which starred the legendary Lon Chaney Sr. Of course, there have been dozens of adaptations over the years, including a further Universal movie, a Hammer horror and an earlier musical. I'd like to take a look at all of these, to see the differences in the productions - I always find it interesting to see different interpretations. Even Big Finish made a version, with a cast including Anna Massey, Peter Guinness and Alexander Siddig. And of course, I should read the original 1909 novel by Gaston Leroux.

It's odd, though, that for such a recognisable monster, the Phantom isn't really any such thing - not a ghost, not a demon, but simply a malformed human being - not unlike another famous monster, Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. That didn't stop me taking along a Monster in My Pocket figure of the Phantom as a mascot, since I am a child.

Have you seen this man?
So, yes, Phantom made an impression. You can visit the website here to watch and listen to clips. At least I know what I'll be dressing as next Hallowe'en (I only need the mask and cape - I've already got the rest).

It was a marvellous night, only slightly spoilt by the horrendous journey home afterwards, which involved a violent storm, a tree falling onto the line just outside Balcombe station, vast delays, hundreds of passengers stranded at Gatwick, and a complete lack of any kind of organisation or coherent response by the train people. Once we'd limped to Three Bridges on a slow train after sitting at Gatwick for over two hours, we were promised a bus the rest of the way to Haywards Heath. What we got instead was a bus driver who refused to let us on, in spite of the howling gale and pelting rain, for a further forty-five minutes. In spite of the fact that there were more than enough of us to fill the bus up and get it on its way. The crowd of people were dangerously close to becoming a mob by this point, and it wouldn't have taken much for someone to smash their way into the bus, forcibly evict the driver and take himself home. In the end, we shelled out for a hair-raising taxi ride, aquaplaning the way home courtesy of a driver who spoke about a dozen words of English. Still, we got there in the end, and a dark, storm-lashed night was quite fitting after an operatic horror story.

As they say, the Old Ones are the best
I've been having a nice, spooky week, altogether. I like a bit of spooky, and I've been listening to a lot of Radio 4 Extra's Seventh Dimension slot. Although the name made a lot more sense when the station was called Radio 7, it still puts out plenty of new and classic radio drama, and just lately has brought both Doctor Who and H. P. Lovecraft back to the airwaves. If you tune into R4X (or get it up on t'internet, like I do), at six o'clock or midnight, you can listen to a half-hour instalment of Paul Magrs's wonderfully batty Hornet's Nest, starring Tom Baker as the Doctor as he deals all many of bizarre goings on, followed by Richard Coyle's wonderfully evocative reading of At the Mountains of Madness. More of a science-fiction tale than a horror, in my view, Mountains is still terribly eerie, and made all the more so by the excellent reading and subtly effective sound work. And if that spooks you too much, you can go make a cup of tea and pop back half an hour later for Dad's Army, which is well known as a cure for all kinds of emotional trauma. Even a trip home in storm severe enough to hide a Phantom.

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