Theatre review: Phantom of the Opera; Edinburgh Playhouse

TAKE a deep breath, Edinburgh theatregoers, and prepare to be dazzled; for the current Cameron Mackintosh touring production of The Phantom Of The Opera must be the most spectacular festival of kitsch ever seen on a Scottish stage, designed to knock audiences’ eyes out, and offer them the full value of the ticket price, which ranges up to more than £50.

By kitsch, I mean a huge, rich weight of decoration, full of rippling cultural references, wrapped around a kernel of content which contains almost nothing at all. There’s a story in there, of course, of a sweet young couple in love, and of a hideously ugly older man – the girl’s inspired teacher, the master of the music she loves – full of raging jealousy over her yearning for happiness with another; but apart from the Phantom himself – for we all have an inner unloveable monster – there’s not a single character with whom anyone could seriously identify.

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Instead, what we get is a stunningly effective and well-crafted production, brilliantly designed by Paul Brown, Maria Bjornson, and Paule Constable, among others, to offer an ever-changing visual feast of rich rococo theatre architecture, Degas-like dressing-room scenes, folding red-plush curtains, flaming torches, and towering backstage caverns; and it achieves all this – over 20 spectacular scenes – without ever diminishing the performers, or separating them from their audience.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous music achieves the same effect in aural form; huge crashing chords and thunderous melodies heaped around a story so slender it threatens to collapse under their weight. Katie Hall sings like an angel as the heroine Christine, John Owen-Jones is a decent Phantom, the fourteen-strong band plays brilliantly in the pit, the whole show looks and sounds magnificent. And if it all, in the end, means less than nothing – well, perhaps, in tough times, that kind of gorgeous escapism is exactly what audiences need.

Rating: * * * *