When Derek Jacobi revived Olivier's double-bill of Oedipus and The Critic, dear Larry's good-luck telegram read, "You cheeky bugger!" The same sense gleefully predominates in Ken Hill's Phantom: it cheeks both the original story and (implicitly) that other West End version which, in fact, it predates by two years and which it – ahem – "inspired".
From the first word (as a simpering Brightmanesque ballerina misses her step and spits, "Shit!") to the grand finale in which the dying Phantom summons enough breath for a swansong, Hill hits perfect pitch: at once melodramatic and irresistibly chucklesome. Verdi, Offenbach and Gounod arias receive daft new libretti that rhyme "forehead" with "horrid"; a stage Faust is grotesquely codpieced; the new manager of the Paris Opera blouse is played with delicious bluster by Reginald Marsh, best known as the boss from Terry And June.
Both male romantic leads (Steven Blake's 7 Pacey as Raoul and Peter Straker's Phantom) possess a pop singing diction which goes against the cod-operatic grain, but the whole creation is so delightfully, knowingly silly it soars above all such nit-picking on wings of brocaded velour. The difference between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ken Hill is the difference between Yes and T. Rex. Get it on.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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