Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Lord of the Rings comes to the West End - My Review of LOTR The Musical


I have been on somewhat of a Tolkien high of late - the launch of Children of Hurin, The History of the Hobbit (vol 1 - excellent worth reading) - so I was looking forward to this preview. I certainly did not except to see a staged version of the flilm but thought it would be better than the Bakshi film and the Rankin Bass cartoons - and I certainly thought the lyrics would be better than "Where there is a whip there is away" - unfortunately, I can report that this is probably one of the most biggest musical miscalculations and I think an insult to Tolkien.I went with high hopes - the dirctor Matthew Warchus (who is reported to have visited Tolkien's grave before rehearsals- boy does he have lots of splaning to do!)- the music was by a Finnish group called Varttina (so it could sound like Quenya at least). First sign of trouble was walking in the door and see merchandise like t-shirts and mugs being sold (my partner David wanted a Nazgul hoodie) Then a look at the programme and in small mice type the following "The Tolkien Estate has given permission to include in the production phases rendered into the Elvish Language created by JRR Tolkien but has had no involvement in the creation of this stage version and has not approved the resulting work." oh boy, not good.

The stage was quite impressive - we had last been at the Drury Lane for Anything Goes and the boat has now been converted to a forest with trees and branches extending out into the theatre. In the middle was a large circle (ring?) that went back into the stage. Before the show started hobbits (dressed right out of the movie - did they call WETA for the costumes) come out and try to catch fireflies and jolly up the audience. The story gets underway rather quickly - the party, Bilbo disappearing, Gandalf telling Frodo not to use the ring, etc. Gandalf (Andrew Jarvis) is played as a surly (downright mad) head master who seems bothered to have to deal with Hobbits. Not exactly the naturing Istari we all have comes to love. We are also treated to a shadowy chorus line of Rangers who brandish swords in the background apparently protecting Frodo. The black ride is done very well with Lion King like puppets - the scene between Gandalf and Saruman at Isengard (done very well with lighting and a oculus that reminds one (well at least me) of the jewels on one of the original three box sets of LOTR) is an odd one - Saruman keeps try to get Gandalf to conspire with him to trick Sauron into thinking that they are allying with him and then tricking Sauron at the last moment. By now we see the make up of the stage. Its a large revolve which turns and also has 16 pieces that go up and down and move independently creating mountains, pathways, etc - cool. There is no Old Forest, not Old Man Willow, no Tom Bombadil (although he does get a mention at the end!) and then we have our first encounter with the Elves. Here my heart sank. Gildor first is a woman and second pops out of a tree and is suspended high about the hobbits in a cirque de soliel fashion. The ellves are flighty cute and pixie like (everything Tolkien hated abut depictions of the elves in fairy tales and Shakespeare!!). Bree starts off as a chorus of people holding tables to make up the front of the Prancing Pony and then becomes the interior where we are treated to an interminable song loosely based on "There is an Inn a Merry Old Inn" but think more of it as a cross between Putting it Together, The Old Bamboo and any dance number from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This goes on and on and we are treated to all manner of twee dancing including several river dances. Even Bill Ferney joins in! Finally we get to Frodo disappearing and Strider (the understudy). Things go quickly then - Frodo is wounded by the morgul knife (in Bree? we are not sure) and of course a la the movie Arwen comes to the rescue. The final scene at the Ford is done well with lights and stages moving up and down.

At Rivendell - Elrond has been taking lessons with Robert Wilson (or Cosima Wagner) since every line is accompanied by a gesture (to be fair there is a late essay by Tolkien on form of non verbal communication elves used called "Osswe-Kwenta"). Gandalf greets Frodo by rushing in to his bed and screaming "I told you not to put on the Ring! (must have been a bad day. The Council of Elrond is the excuse for all the back story and also the stage keeps revolving to the point of nausea. There is a lot of confusion in the dialogue between the Ring and the Sword that was broken. Boromir has a very thick phony Scottish accent (I thought Gondor is supposed to be Rome) and there is never any mention of Denethor - just the Steward (more on that later). The Fellowship set off and come to Moria. Moria is done well (no watcher in the water) and the final climatic chase to Khazad Dum and the Balrog done well (again right out of the movie with the Ian Mckellan "You shall not pass") Some tech problems with the Balrog - start spewing black ash out into the audience - now you know how they felt in Gondolin when 20 of them attacked at once. Of course we have the love story of Aragorn and Arwen (right out of the movie!) - Leoglas and Gimli barely get any lines.

Interval - ice cream (thankfully not themed on LOTR). Orcs come out into the audience and attack on stilts (I can just see the professor spinning in the grave!) Second act we are introduced to the broadway belter, the Diva with the high notes, the Shirley Bassey of Tol-Eressea - Galadriel. And boy does she belt out an opening number "Lothlorien" (if ever the Middle Earth tourist board wants a song for their campaign this would be it). Complete with cirque de soliel (the Noldor must have made a stop in Las Vegas after the Kinslaying at the Alqualonde) swings, people flying through the air, etc. Again - everything Tolkien hated about depicting elves is here. Then the breaking of the fellowship, death of Boromir (my hero, my king) and so on. No Rohan - as a matter of fact the stories of Rohan and Gondor are telescoped into one king who is called The Steward - and there is a battle with Saruman's orcs. Aragorn awakes the Steward (no Wormtongue) In the middle of this battle the 25 million pond stage got stuck and we had to wait ten minutes for it to be reset (later that week the show was completely stopped when an hear piercing shriek was heard from one of the lifts where one of the actors playing a hobbit was almost crushed to death!). Right before the stop Gandalf makes his reappearence in time to break the staff of Saruman who keeps insisting this is a ploy to trick Sauron. Meanwhile Frodo wrestles with the ring on Amon Hen (first glance at Sauron - what a surprise it looks just like the movie Sauron) and we hear the voice of Gandalf say "Take off the bling (well thats what it sounded like to me!)." Meanwhile Merry and Pippin reach Fangorn and meet Treebeard who is a tall giant man with a midlands accent who speaks 12th century welsh (Not entish!!). Short scene there - they go off to war. Gollum is done rather well (he creeps down the full wall of the stage muttering "my precious") - we then hear the whole story of Bilbo and Gollum (its starting to be like that other Ring). No Faramir, we do get a good Shelob (Lion King puppet again) - never any real sense that Frodo is being possessed by the Ring (he gets huffy thats about it). Meanwhile the others are in some unnamed place where they decide to confront the Dark Lord and Aragorn reveals himself (no palantir) we are then subject to another battle that is done with the stage and black and white footage that looks like it comes from those old Battle of Britain newsreels.

We, finally, get to Mordor and just as Frodo and Sam are making that last push to the Sammath Naur - who shows up but Galadriel in full voice singing (isn't she going to get noticed) - "Ellberth Gilthoniel and then some gibberish which I assume is kind of Sindarin. She even gets in the way of Frodo trying to get the blasted Ring in Mount Doom. The scene when Gollum falls in the pit is done well - he falls in and then an actor on a harness falls from top of stage down. Coronation of Elessar pretty standard - Gandalf then declares "I am going to go have tea with Tom Bombadil the oldest, yada, yada (keep the Tolkienists happy). The hobbits go back to the Shire where its is mentioned that Saruman has despoiled - but there is a lot made of the box of earth that our Shirley Bassie Galadriel has given to Sam. So instead of fighting Saruman that plant flowers (make love not war??). Marriage of Sam and Rosie - more dance numbers and then Frodo (who hasn't written anything apparently Sam is supposed to do all that) goes off with the Grey Company to the Undying Lands (the only time the musical quotes directly from the book - and the scene is actually very moving) - and that's it.

I can't comment on any of the songs since none of them are very memorable.

I only wish they had taken all that money, time and effort and staged "Bored of the Rings" it would have been a lot more funny!

A shortened review can be found at http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/theatre/article-23399446-details/Orchestrating%20the%20orcs/article.do?expand=true#c927570


Matthew said...

I linked to your review on a discussion of the musical on the Tolkien forum LotRPlaza — hope you don't mind! :)

Perchbod said...

Sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy the stage version of LOTR at Drury Lane. However, might I point out that it was Malcom Storry that you saw playing Gandalf and not, as you wrote, Andrew Jarvis. Jarvis plays Elrond and, although understudy to Gandalf, did not play the part until August.

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