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The Phantom Of The Opera, Stratford East

May 10th 1984
Written for The Times by Anthony Masters




For once the Old Blood Tub lives up to its name, though with a borrowed production. If Ken Hill's elaborately jocular melodrama is more representative than what I have seen on the spot, Newcastle tastes must be getting very camp, and times have certainly changed since he ran this antiquated London gem as a protegé of Joan Littlewood. With voices and a multitude of sets (Sarah-Jane McClelland) that you could mount a proper opera production with, we are transported to Garnier's newly-built Paris Opera. The resident Phantom lurks in box number five (Callas would doubtless have referred to questo palco funesto), and directors come and go with sinister regularity and, surprisingly, no in-jokes about Lyubimov. Actually, all the old ghost wants is a beloved soprano to sing in Faust, which says little for his taste. Defending his mystique is Toni Palmer as a cliché sepulchral chátelaine who, when she speaks of "him", never believes it and neither do you.

Intrepid officials disappear, plus the resident Marguerite ("Well, that's cured her nodules". observes John Aron as a queeny Faust in mauve). I wonder how many E15 locals relish gags about that old operatic war-horse. Wreathed in dry ice to the accompaniment of Antonia's theme from Tales of Hoffmann, the favoured understudy (Christine Collier) sings her heart out only to spend most of the second act in the Opera cellars where horrors lurk from Commune days. Greeted with "Who the devil are you?". Mephistopheles (Haluk Bilginer) is another ready-spoken faggot appearing only briefly, and the best remaining share in the operatic ensembles goes to the bwildered gentleman admirer (James Saxon) awaiting the heroine. Meanwhile, they must dispose of Peter Straker as the masked horror, garotting victims with a gold cord - inevitably referred to as a G string - and bawling a rehash of "Avant de quitter ces lieux" at his idol before attacking a painted organ keyboard to the acclaim of, apparently, a claque in the audience that Paris would envy. No doubt Paris has often seen worse. But frankly, I would sooner watch Faust.