Tag Archives: Paul Hart

The Lord of the Rings

★★★★★

Watermill Theatre

THE LORD OF THE RINGS at the Watermill Theatre

★★★★★

Lord of the Rings

“The nuances of the characters are beautifully executed, particularly up close on the small stage.”

 

‘When Mr Bilbo Baggins announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement’. And so opens J. R. R. Tolkien’s monumental “The Lord of the Rings”; one of the best-selling books ever written. Since my early teens, I’m not sure I have met anybody who hasn’t read it. The Sunday Times once stated that “the English-speaking world is divided into those who have read ‘Lord of the Rings’ and those who are going to read it”. Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films echoes the epic scale of fantasy and adventure. How, then, can the story translate to a two-hundred-seater theatre in the Berkshire countryside? A good question, and one that becomes swiftly answered as we wander through the Shire, under an open sky, into Bilbo’s much anticipated birthday party. Woodsmoke drifts from the gardens of the old mill down to the stream, with the scent of Hog roast floating among the jugglers and minstrels, while Hobbits mingle with ‘the Big Folk’. As the party reaches its end, we are ushered inside where the adventure begins. A very big adventure in a pretty small space, but The Watermill Theatre have concocted a production in which each element of the stagecraft would put the most hallowed wizard to shame.

It is telling that this adaptation by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus (with music by A. R. Rahman, Värttinä and Christopher Nightingale) is referred to as a ‘musical tale’ rather than a musical. Shunning convention it avoids formulaic showtunes. Instead, the soundtrack follows the pulse of the emotions rather than the narrative; the underscoring seamlessly merging into song. Impressively performed by the actor-musician cast and ensemble, Mark Aspinall’s orchestrations ranges from folk to bar-room jigs, through to bombastic percussion-driven anthems, back again to the mysticism of the Celtic harp, whistles, fiddles and gorgeous voices.

 

“Each member of the cast deserves mention, and each could threaten to steal the show”

 

Frodo, who has inherited the One Ring from his cousin at the birthday party has to undertake the quest to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Louis Maskell carries the role with an instinctive ease that belies the demands of the emotional journey required. Nuwan Hugh Perera, as his companion Sam, is an unexpected voice of reason, merging light relief with solid support for his fellow hobbits. Across the board, the portrayal of the characters is natural, and paradoxically believable in all their other-worldly implausibility. Peter Marinker’s Gandalf has the wizened wisdom that keeps his power in check. Both Georgia Louise, as the Royal Elf Galadriel, and Aoife O’Dea as Arwen, enchant us with their performances and musicality. Each member of the cast deserves mention, and each could threaten to steal the show. The largest threat being Matthew Bugg’s Gollum, who weaves his way into the second act: feral, feline and fluid. Bugg moves as though underwater, defying gravity as easily as abusing the hobbits’ trust.

The nuances of the characters are beautifully executed, particularly up close on the small stage. But remarkably, when required, the epic proportions magically come into full force. Paul Hart’s staging is phenomenal. Simon Kenny’s ingenious design utilises every nook and cranny of the playing space. With the stunning combination of Adam Fisher’s sound, Rory Beaton’s lighting, George Reeve’s projections, Charlie Tymms’ puppetry and Anjali Mehra’s choreography (to name a few of the key creatives), the effect is that of a sweeping panorama. Only later, in retrospect, does one wonder how it is achieved.

“The Lord of the Rings: A Musical Tale” is little short of a miracle. As we are led back outside, back to the Shire, darkness has fallen. We bid farewell to Frodo. Emotions are running high. Our senses have been caught in the storm of a spectacle, but we have still heard the intimate sounds of extraordinary theatre making. Most people who have read Tolkien’s high-fantasy novel would agree that they could read it again. Everyone, I’d like to think, who sees this adaptation at The Watermill will agree that they could see it again. And again.


THE LORD OF THE RINGS at the Watermill Theatre

Reviewed on 1st August 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

Mansfield Park | ★★★★ | June 2023
Rapunzel | ★★★★ | November 2022
Whistle Down The Wind | ★★★★ | July 2022
Spike | ★★★★ | January 2022
Brief Encounter | ★★★ | October 2021

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings

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Spike

Spike

★★★★

Watermill Theatre

Spike

Spike

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 31st January 2022

★★★★

 

“John Dagleish embodies Spike Milligan in a memorably empathetic way”

 

This tribute to the comedy legend Spike Milligan is the work of ‘Private Eye’ editor Ian Hislop and his colleague and friend Nick Newman. It coincides with the 20th anniversary of the death of this renowned writer of the BBC’s anarchic radio comedy show ‘The Goon Show’, which ran from 1951 to 1960.

Many under the age of 45 will be barely aware of Milligan, who as Stephen Fry, in the guise of a BBC announcer, points out at the end of the show, was comedic gold for generations that followed him. ‘The Goon Show’ was a brilliantly disruptive success for the Corporation, even if the managers there didn’t quite understand it. It remains available online to this day.

There are jokes and madcap nonsense by the box load in this warm and affectionate play which grew out of a reading of the extensive and argumentative correspondence between Milligan and the BBC. Spike discovered the BBC was run by the same officer class he’d resented in wartime. Why, he wanted to know, was the writer of the show paid a fraction of that given to the ‘talent’ Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers? And what was wrong with poking fun at royalty?

The play is structured as a loose series of chronologically arranged scenes beginning with the very early days of ‘The Goon Show’, just six years after the end of the Second World War. The BBC was male-dominated then. By way of balance, Margaret Cabourn-Smith opens the show as the likeably goofy sound effects girl who like her colleague the Head of Drama’s Secretary, ‘will some day run the place’.

Robert Mountford is the entertainingly preening BBC executive who is quick to give Spike a dressing down that flips him to the nightmares of wartime. John Dagleish embodies Spike Milligan in a memorably empathetic way. He has the look of Spike, who he imagines as a troubled and inward looking outsider, still fighting a war at the BBC.

Jeremy Lloyd gives an excellent impersonation of the young Harry Secombe and the trio of Goons is completed by George Kemp (of Bridgerton) as a suave and smooth-talking Peter Sellers. James Mack gives a tour-de-force performance as the harried Director of ‘The Goon Show’. Ellie Morris memorably plays Spike’s inevitably long-suffering wife, June, as well as other roles.

‘Spike’ is probably at its best in the second half when we see a Goon Show being recorded. If the ending of the play was slightly unexpected (and there was no ‘Ying Tong iddle-i-po’!), it was hard to imagine how else to bring down such a hugely entertaining show.

Spike Milligan once joked that he’d be remembered as the man who ‘wrote the Goons and then died’. This show is an enjoyable celebration of his life’s work and a feast of nostalgic fun that will delight audiences of all ages.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Spike

Watermill Theatre until 5th March

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Brief Encounter | ★★★ | October 2021

 

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