Production notes written by Ken Hill as directions to potential future directors of Phantom of the Opera. These notes were included in the publication of the script/libretto book, which can be purchased from Samuel French Ltd. Click here for more information.
The Playing should be real and controlled, stretched to the limits of what is believable, but never beyond. 'Camping' or 'guying' is not permitted. The characters are somewhat thinly drawn, but must be fleshed out with the actor's own personality, and played truthfully. Playing for laughs will destroy the story. The narrative is gripping, and relies heavily on atmosphere and thrills. Where there is comedy in a scene, it should be thrown away deftly, dead-pan, almost as if it were unimportant. Grasping this simple, yet rather delicate style, will be the difference between good and bad theatre, success and failure.
The setting must be designed to permit fast, fluid action, with the maximum effect created with the minimum of fuss. There are no scene changes as such. A short black-out, a few chords of music, and we are on into the next scene. The rhythm of the play demands the approach. Anything more cumbersome will not only make it very long, it will reduce its impact and lessen its tension. For convenience, the script describes the setting used in the later productions, designed by Sarah-Jane McClelland.
For all scenes taking place in the auditorium and on the stage of the Opera House, a red tableau curtain was flown in behind a decorated front portal representing the Paris Opera House. At the same time, two small decorated boxes were trucked in from left and right. When used, the curtain was drawn up in classical tableau style. The centre split was an important entrance. For scenes not taking place in the auditorium or on the stage, the tableau curtains were flown out fully, and the boxes trucked off. Something approximating this device is necessary, since it is important the audience understand when they are participating in a performance at the Paris Opera House, and when they are watching a scene from The Phantom of the Opera.
The chandelier can be the house chandelier, if one exists and if access is permitted. Only a small movement will, of course, be allowed. By far the more spectacular was a large prop chandelier in the auditorium, which could be swung alarmingly. Whichever is used, it is very important the chandelier is over the heads of some of the audience, and that as many as possible can see it. Immediately behind the tableau curtains was flown a painted cloth depicting, in a general sense, a corridor in the Opera House. This permits most upstage scenes to be preset.
Hinged forward in the entrances left by the trucked boxes right and left were two door-frames, that on the right containing a barred gate, that on the left a non-practical door to a dressing room, which was replaced with a similar barred gate in the interval. Upstage there was a second portal, of a similar but muted design, able to work pictorially in both 'opera' and 'non-opera' scenes. Both portals contained sets of scenes, those on the first portal practical, those on the second not. Behind the second portal were flown three painted cloths and a simple black masking cloth. All the painted cloths were designed for back-lighting and represented as follows:
(i) An all purpose 'Faust' cloth used in all the 'Faust' opera scenes. It was highly coloured, a medieval devil swallowing the world.
(ii) A 'Forest' cloth for use in Act Two, Scene Seven. A primitive jungle, containing some animals and blue sky, highly coloured.
(iii) An 'Organ' cloth for use in the play's last scene. Purple pipes, painted three-dimensional in perspective, appeared to emanate from the keyboard butted up to it.
At the rear, as deep as possible was a black star cloth. The stars are only used on one scene (the roof) and for all the other scenes where the second portal is open, all is black and void. Even scenes where a sky might be expected, for example, the Office, had a black background. The floor was black and shiny. At all times, action was contained 'within' the setting in which curtain or cloth rose. The downstage area was used only for downstage scenes in the Opera House, or before the 'corridor' cloth. The only exception to this rule was the occasional spill permitted in the Boiler Room, the Bottom Cellar and the Chapel. Finally, included as part of the permanent setting, were two drop-boxes, right, one containing sawdust, the other the Phantom's prayer-book.
The true period of the story is the late nineteenth century, but the costumes reflected a slightly later period, after the turn of the twentieth century, which produces a nicer line, especially for Christine.
There are no M'sieurs or Mamselles in this play. They translate perfectly properly as Mr and Miss, as in real life. Madam is retained, however, for Madam Giry, since it seems more of a title, and adds colour to the character. The pronunciation, however, is English and not Madame. The dialogue is standard English, but pronunciation of French proper names should be correct, though not heavily accented. For example: Ric-hard, Chris-tine. The 'J' of Jammes and 'G' of Giry are soft.
At first site, the score may appear rather daunting. However, it is important to realize that in most cases the airs from opera are used for musical comedy purposes. Only Faust and Christine need to convince as opera-singers. The Phantom, by his very nature, needs to reach across and 'touch' us. A more modern voice is best here, then - even high rock. Raoul, The Persian and Madam Giry need to be better than average, but the rest need only good actor 'character' voices. The range called for by Madam Giry is rather extreme, and some passages in the sextet might best be doubled off for her.