The Lord of the Rings

15. 6. 2007 | Rubriky: Články,Interviews, reviews,Multilingual

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
7 June 2007

[by Ken Hunt, London] There’s a good chance that you’ve read or maybe attempted to read The Lord of the Rings either in Tolkien’s idiosyncratic and often highly time-warped English or in translation. It’s much translated. It’s gone into many other languages and Peter Jackson successfully translated it into visual language in his masterful film trilogy (2001-2003). Turning the trilogy into a vehicle for the London stage has produced a lavish affair of a very different kind. Reportedly pumped into the production – and here I confess to the sin of repetition and coming over all faint – is the astronomical figure of GBP 12.5 million. Still, costs tend to sky-rocket when the stakes and potential for profit are high.

The Lord of the Rings previewed at London’s Theatre Royal from May 2007 until its premiere proper on 19 June 2007. It transferred from Toronto where it ran between March and October 2006. The three-hour London production supposedly has 25 minutes trimmed from the Canadian production’s script and more music has been added. (My gut feeling is that Laura Michelle Kelly who plays Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlórien gets to sing more than the original Galadriel had.) The music, credited to the Tamil film and Bombay Dreams composer A.R. Rahman and Finland’s Värttinä with Christopher Nightingale doesn’t quite dovetail. Värttinä’s folk idioms, rendered nicely by the pit orchestra under Richard Brown (including, pop-pickers, Andy Findon, formerally of the Home Service), are prominent in, for example, the opening pre-Fellowship of the Ring hobbit rural idyll. Here however, Peter Darling’s choreography understudies Morris parody too assiduously with neckerchiefs waved aloft and all that stuff. Värttinä’s pan-European folk music works well even if it lurches into sub-Chieftains territory at times. For me, Act Three (Return of the King) is the musically questionable act in preview. It is too transparently the Act designed to deliver the musical’s big numbers that people leave the theatre humming and singing. Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee get a song number about “now and for always” that dogs Tolkien’s own songwriting (as realised on that Caedmon LP of Middle Earth songs) before they slip-slide away into Mordor. The characters of Galadriel and Aragorn (played on the preview night by Robbie Scotcher, depping for an indisposed Jérome Pradon) get to go for the Big One too. Mind you, if I hadn’t taken notes, I’d still be ransacking my head for any melodic or lyrical memory of what anyone sang. The melodies and lyrics just aren’t memorable enough.

Still, bear in mind that the music is only a part of the theatrical experience that is The Lord of the Rings. And The Lord of the Rings is spectacular. Central to the spectacle is Robert Howell’s imaginative and pretty-penny set and Paul Pyant’s lighting. Circles and rings figure prominently in the staging, though not in any ham-fisted and hammy way. The set has weather-beaten wooden effects of interlaced branches and a multi-sectioned revolving stage that looks like a section through a tree ring. The set enables the actors to shine athletically – most especially Gollum and the choreographed Orcs who careen about in mondo bondo black leather wear in a crouched position like a Middle Earth evolutionary prequel to Return To Oz‘s nasties before their stick hands developed into wheels.

The London production has ditched several narrative- or comprehension-impairing plotlines from its Toronto predecessor. Put it another way, the musical’s narrative is definitely not competing with Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in time or on any other terms. This is popular theatre, pure and simple, so if you think you’re going to get the full trilogy staged before your very eyes, disabuse yourself outside the Theatre Royal before going in. The production wins by planting ideas of imagination and by never forgetting that this Lord of the Rings is a theatrical experience. Thus, when theatregoers take their seats before the first act, they get a glimpse of the Shire with hobbits frisking about and netting fireflies on stage. Sort of promenade theatre-fashion, hobbits also scamper around the audience ‘environment’. Far better happens during the break between Act Two (The Two Towers) and Act Three. In it Orcs materialise out of the darkness to harry theatregoers in the safety of their own seats. To say that there are a few nasty tricks involved is forewarning enough. Be assured, The Lord of the Rings will deliver ample surprises.


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