Review: The Phantom of the Opera, Edinburgh Playhouse

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Christmas has come early for Edinburgh’s musical theatre critics this week. Two five-star shows in two nights both with very different selling points are vying for the public’s attention.

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Yesterday it was Susan Boyle and Elaine C Smith’s touching local lass made good musical I Dreamed A Dream, and today it’s the turn of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s special brand of high camp melodrama at it’s finest – The Phantom of the Opera.

A favourite with some critics, simply because the eponymous anti-hero reeks glorious revenge on the dreadful performers he has to put up with invading his stage. If only it really were possible to blackmail a theatre into putting on your personal choice of show, there would certainly be a larger number of edgy, risk-taking productions treading the boards.

Twenty-five years on from Phantom’s opening run and there’s still life in the old dog yet. Impresario Cameron Mackintosh’s latest remastering of the tale is infused with obsessive darkness and ominous signs of tragedy.

The set is, as ever, the star of the show, contorting like a python wrapping itself in knots, shifting from backstage, to front of stage, to manager’s office, to a Degasesque ballerina’s dressing room, to a ballroom, a graveyard, and, most strikingly, a trip across the lake in the depths of a cellar deep below the theatre. The production fills the enormous auditorium of the Playhouse as if it has always been there.

The Phantom, played by John Owen Jones, is a more compulsive, brutal character than in previous incarnations. His love for Christine, depicted with grace and enormous vocal strength by Katie Hall, is rather domineering, bordering on abusive in tone rather than some of the softer interpretations that have preceded Jones’s version of the tortured soul. And the production is none the worse for it, the brutality and jealousy of Jones making a nice foil to the folly of the opera company’s ensemble. And enjoyable folly is certainly what Phantom is. If you’re looking for more intimacy and people to identify with, well that show’s on just up the road too. Why not catch both and compare their merits.

Run ends Saturday, October 20