The Lord of the Rings Musical

Book and lyrics: Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus

Music: AR Rahman, Verttina, Christopher Nightingale

Director: Matthew Warchus

Venue: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

Tickets: £15-£60

Box office: 0870 890 6002 ( )

Running time: 3 hours (including interval)


Try to imagine going to see a multi-million-pound fantasy-themed circus. Imagine it has acrobats, dancers, men on stilts, giant animals and beautiful women on trapezes. Also envisage that it uses every clever trick of theatrical mechanics: from smoke, to trap doors and moving stage platforms, acres of billowing cloth, coloured lights, and gigantic tree branches that stretch from the stage and wind around the roof and boxes. That's Lord of the Rings, on stage at London's Theatre Royal.

Sadly, now imagine that it has dull, unmemorable songs, and a vastly truncated plot in order to fit into the allotted time frame. With the exception of an understated fireside song in the second act ("Now and For Always" sung by Frodo and Sam), and the exotic, middle-eastern sounding songs and instrumental music that accompany the elves, the compositions are not remarkable. It does not reference the film music at all, fact fans, it's a completely stand-alone production, previously seen on stage in Toronto. Despite being written as a musical, the tunes were never going to be the focus of this production - the pleasure is in seeing the mighty world of Middle-Earth recreated on stage in front of you, live. The first half of the performance covers the Fellowship of the Ring, with the other two books squeezed into the second half, which means losing the Rohirrim (including Théoden), Wormtongue, Helm's Deep, the Army of the Dead and so on. Gondor isn't even mentioned by name, although of course the white tree symbol is present and you do witness the final battles.

At first, Malcolm Storry as Gandalf doesn't live up to Ian McKellen - who could? - but he develops the appropriate gravitas just in time for the Balrog incident. Michael Therriault as Gollum is clearly influenced by Andy Serkis' movie interpretation... and pulls it off well, contorting his body and his voice with extraordinary ability. Meanwhile, Laura Michelle Kelly is commanding as Galadriel.

It's in the astonishing locations and creatures of Middle-Earth that the production designers reveal their true ingenuity. Orcs on bouncy PowerSkip legs leap around and lurch through the auditorium scaring London's sensitive ladies; Ents on huge stilts tower over the stage, while the Balrog and Shelob make creative use of chains and puppetry to rise up frighteningly over our heroes' heads. The enormous stage itself is made from platforms that rotate and change height to simulate mountain journeys or the deep halls of Moria. It's stunning.

And that's where its success lies. Whatever else you may think about its place as a West End musical, this production does ooze magic.

David Bradley

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