The Phantom of The Opera, Maltings Youth Theatre
The Maltings Theatre & Cinema
27th November 2013
Hands up — this isn’t really a review. There’s not a lot I can write this late in the day to heap further praise on The Maltings Youth Theatre’s production of The Phantom of the Opera, the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic chosen to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the MYT under the direction of Wendy Payn.
“Phantom was a musical and technical tour de force …”
“The large ensemble dazzled throughout …”
“Everything from the cast, to the costumes to the mightily impressive set was top drawer.”
The Berwick Advertiser
You can’t argue with that, can you? So I won’t bore you by repeating the ins and outs, suffice to say:
Musical Director Neil Metcalfe drew musicality out of even the most reluctant singer; Stephen Percy and Jimmy Manningham pulled out all the stops, producing an amazing tech design; the eye for detail from Karen Page, Alyson Farmer and the Maltings’ costume department raised the show to a level far above that of anything that had gone before. And Wendy? I loved her unshakeable belief in her charges, her quiet, unrelenting insistence that the ambitious nature of Phantom was something that lay within the reach of these 39 youngsters, and how they rewarded that faith in spades.
We’re all in agreement then — a phenomenal show in which everyone dazzled, whether lead or supporting role.
Hold that thought.
As always, some actors stood out, but not necessarily those whom you might think. The buzz continues to swirl around Frazer Smiles (Raoul), an actor with unnerving stage presence, and while he, Katie Hindmarsh and Oliver Payn (Christine and the Phantom) would be obvious candidates for Best Actress/Actor awards — they’re all used to meeting the challenge of leading roles and delivering astonishing performances — Jonathan Combe and David Simpson were the dark horses of the production.
As Messieurs Firmin and André, this comedy duo raised energy and pace every time they set foot on the stage, no mean feat in a show hardly inclined to sit on its laurels. Not only could they sing (the number ‘Notes’ was a technical and comedic delight), their physicality and easy rapport made them a joy to watch. And I confess, the quality of their performance caught me by surprise.
You see, Wendy courts controversy whenever she casts a new show. There are grumbles that the lead roles often go to the same actors and that not everybody gets a bite of the cherry or their moment in the sun.
It’s a difficult decision. Do you cast in order to let everybody have a go — community theatre in its truest sense — or do you try to produce the best possible show and build a reputation for quality theatre, irrespective of a ‘community’ or ‘amateur’ epithet?
With the cost of putting on a show rising year on year, it makes financial sense to go for quality over equality. Leading roles should go to those best able to deliver, those with the ability to draw in an audience wider than just family and friends. Sadly, this does mean that some very able performers are destined to remain frustrated spear carriers, forever doomed to fly under the lead role radar. But sometimes, just sometimes, this can work in their favour…
The delighted reaction of the audience to the Simpson and Combe’s double-act lay not only in their skill but also in its unexpectedness. Here was a pair more familiar to the audience playing unremarkable support roles — the almosts-but-not-quites — and yet in Phantom of the Opera they came damn close to stealing the show.
So take note and stand proud, spear carriers everywhere — quality will always trump quantity.