Liam Rudden: Finally won over by the opera ghost

NEVER liked Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. Don’t know why. It just never sat comfortably with me.

Too melodramatic. Too cod-opera. Too long. Way too long.

Not that a man in a mask, terrorising performers and patrons alike, doesn’t offer plenty of scope.

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Indeed, it can make for an exciting evening as anyone who has seen Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera will know.

First staged in 1976, it predates Lloyd Webber’s by a good few years and, well, just had more soul. It’s successor, for some reason, just left me cold.

Yes, the staging was magnificent and beautifully realised, after all, who can forget the buzz when the show first arrived at the Playhouse – an entire wall had to be knocked down to accommodate the sets, it was that big a show.

Yet I remember sitting at the end of another performance, wondering what all the fuss was about as the audience leapt to their feet.

Last week, however, after popping down to Leeds for a sneak preview of Cameron Mackintosh’s 25th Anniversary touring production of Lloyd Webber’s version I was finally won over, thanks to John Owen Jones’ portrayal of the Phantom.

Suddenly, everything clicked, the problem with previous productions was obvious. All stage shows are about truth, and until now all the actors I’d seen playing this particular title role had lived the melodrama of the piece, often hamming it up beyond all reason, rather than exploring the humanity of the role.

Owen Jones does just that, creating a fragile, psychotic, vulnerable and murderous character whom it is quite easy to empathise with despite his horrific actions.

From the weeping gash that scars his face, to the graphic nature of his murders, shown in all their brutality, this production captures a raw reality missing from previous ones.

Consequently, I came away with a fresh appreciation of the piece... even if it is still about 20 minutes too long.