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Phantom with a Twist

April 19th 2001
Written for the Weekender (Torquay Newspaper)




"With 17 films, three stage plays and four musicals to it's name, Gaston Leroux's 'Le Fantome de l'Opera' written in 1911, has captivated readers and audiences alike for nearly 100 years. With its plot of thrilling gothic horror, made more intriguing by Mr. Leroux's insistence that his story was one based on fact rather than fiction, the tale unfolds amid the dramatic setting of the Paris Opera House with its maze of underground passages and subterranean lake. The story as we have come to know it is somewhat different from that which Leroux originally created. Leroux's phantom was a fiend, full of mischievousness and intent to harm, but Lon Chaney's portrayal of the phantom in the 1929 film version, changed the character into the more sullen and melancholy soul that we have come to know and love.

New, Ken Hill's musical-comedy version of the classic tale has arrived at Torquay's Princess theatre complete with lavish scenery, rich operatic voice and a distinct level of Gilbert and Sullivan humour. Mr Hill's Phantom was first staged in Morecombe in 1976 and toured the USA for two years to much critical acclaim. A UK tour and West End run followed shortly after. The comedy element is an initial surprise and not altogether very funny, but a sluggish start is soon replaced by several very amusing incidents.

The audience can be forgiven though for not quite knowing whether they are witnessing a pantomime or and opera, with one moment given to bawdy slapstick humour and the next to breathtaking song and tragic romance. Nevertheless this production is a cornucopia of spectacular sound and visual effects. A clever use of scenery results in a constantly effective backdrop, especially during the scenes set in the gothic subterranean world of the Phantom. Although it is impossible to set aside any one character for their operatic prowess - such is the talent among the cast - praise must be attributed to...Thor Kristinsson -a dead ringer Gerard Depardieu- portrays the Phantom very well, again with marvellous voice and presence..."

Ken Hill's Phantom promises an evening of entertainment, with a difference.