As you no doubt know by now, there is a new production of The Lord of the Rings musical currently playing at The Watermill Theatre; it opened July 25th and runs until October 15th. Last week, staffer greendragon ventured into the Berkshire countryside and found herself in the Shire. Here’s her review of the production:
The Lord of the Rings restaged
When The Lord of the Rings musical first appeared, in all its (at the time) ‘most expensive musical ever’ glory, I went to see it in London. I was not convinced. The extravagant, elaborate staging could not conceal the fact that the songs were not particularly memorable, and it just seemed like Tolkien’s story wasn’t really suited to this kind of telling. It was not surprising when the show was not the hoped for success.
Rediscovering the piece, in its new, MUCH smaller and more intimate staging, I am closer to being convinced. First of all, the setting is stunning. The audience arrive in a beautiful, bucolic location, where food and drink can be enjoyed by a slowly winding river. A large ring of woven willow decorates the front lawn of the venue. As show time approaches, everyone heads to behind the building – following signs to the ‘birthday party’. So the performance begins outside – where we are all guests at a Long-expected Party. (Though for some reason, it was referred to as a ‘long awaited party’. Perhaps this was a slip of the tongue? As this production is fully licensed by Middle-earth Enterprises, they certainly have the right to use the Professor’s phrase.)
The Shire is the perfect place for music, and so the show gets off to a very strong start. We are swept up in the party atmosphere; I delighted in seeing the Sackville-Bagginses looking suitably annoyed when they learned that Bilbo was making Frodo his heir, and Bilbo’s disappearance was very well handled. As the Shire-folk rushed around, wondering where he had gone, we joined them in their search – heading inside to the rustic wooden theatre.
This very small auditorium – with just under 100 seats downstairs and about the same again upstairs – is brilliantly used in every way possible to tell the epic story. The staging is incredibly inventive, with cast moving through the auditorium – and even climbing over it. Stunning puppets create suitably terrifying Ringwraiths and an astonishing Shelob. Elrond causes the river to rise, the doors of Moria glow, even the Balrog appears; every theatrical trick and device is called into play, including impressive lighting and projections, to create Middle-earth in front of and around the audience – and those watching the night I was there were clearly loving it.
An outstanding cast
The cast were mostly excellent. Stand outs for me were Nuwan Hugh Perera as a funny, warm, pitch-perfect Samwise; John O’Mahony’s charming Bilbo; and Matthew Bugg, whose astonishingly athletic and aggressive Gollum managed to be fully his own embodiment of the character, rather than being trapped in an Andy Serkis impression. I loved Folarin Akinmade’s Gimli, and wished the script allowed more time for his relationship with Legolas (Yazdan Qafouri) to be played out; one very touching moment between them towards the end of the show made me want more of these characters. Peter Dukes (Boromir) and Aaron Sidwell (Aragorn) were particularly moving in Boromir’s death scene. Louis Maskell didn’t entirely convince me as Frodo, being perhaps slightly overwrought; but it’s a demanding role which carries much of the show, and overall he proved himself equal to the task. Peter Marinker as Gandalf seemed to be still finding his way into the role, in the early performance I saw.
Condensing the plot
If you’re a Tolkien purist, you’ll may find fault with this version of the story. To fit the entire plot into one evening of theatre naturally requires much pruning and condensing – poor Tom Bombadil and Celeborn don’t make the cut, again! Denethor and Theoden are blended into one, as are the battles of Helm’s Deep and the Pelennor Fields. I think the condensation of the story is skilfully handled; I was more bothered, in a picky purist sort of a way, by the Hobbits wearing sandals – though I do understand the need for safety for actors’ feet!
The costuming – with influences of Bollywood in the elven outfits – is similar to the original production, and the revolving stage is still there (albeit in much smaller form). The show looks and sounds stunning; the cast are also the band, and though it may sound like a strange idea, somehow it works seamlessly when Pippin (the charming and highly energetic Amelia Gabriel) picks up an accordion and starts to play. Certainly in the Shire and at Bree, the songs work wonderfully. I’m still not sure about the rest of the music. Retelling such an intense, literary tale in musical form is not easy; Les Miserables comes to mind as the most obvious, successful literature-to-musical transformation. The writers of The Lord of the Rings musical haven’t quite pulled off this difficult transition, for me. It just doesn’t seem entirely plausible when Arwen and Aragorn sing a (rather Disney-ish) love duet on the eve of battle; but perhaps I’m just cynical.
A climax, and a tearjerker ending
The one song which stayed with me from the original production was Now and for Always – and that is still the high point of the show, beautifully and movingly performed. As the show approached its end, and the Hobbits returned to the Shire, to clear up the damage caused by Sharkey and his ruffians, we headed back outside with them. A sail was now unfurled where once a party banner had been; and I was moved to tears as Frodo made his farewells, and left Sam to carry on the story.
In spite of my few misgivings, overall this is a beautiful, moving evening of theatre, and a wonderful chance to immerse yourself in Tolkien’s great story. It’s worth the price of admission just to be transported to the Shire. I imagine the producers may be hoping this production will transfer elsewhere after its run at the Watermill Theatre; but even if it does, this is the perfect setting in which to see it. Do go, if you can.
Back in March we let you know that a new production of The Lord of the Rings musical was in the works. It will be performed at The Watermill Theatre, near Newbury in Berkshire, July 25 to Oct 15 this year. Tickets for this highly anticipated production are available now! Here’s the latest information on cast and crew for this exciting production, from the official press release:
THE LORD OF THE RINGSFULL CASTING AND CREATIVE TEAM ANNOUNCED
Newbury’s TheWatermill Theatre is thrilled to announce the full cast of their upcoming musical; a brand-new production of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, a musical tale based on the classic trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, with book and lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus and music by A.R. Rahman (Bombay Dreams, Slumdog Millionaire), Värttinä and Tony Award winner and Grammy nominated Christopher Nightingale (Matilda the Musical).
With the production set across both the Watermill auditorium and gardens, audiences will be immersed in the magical landscape of Middle-earth, joining an ensemble cast and large-scale puppets on an epic journey celebrating the power of friendship and common goodness to conquer unimaginable evil.
The full cast are Folarin Akinmade (Perfect Show for Rachel – The Pit, Barbican) as ‘Gimli’, Matthew Bugg (Zorro the Musical – Charing Cross Theatre) as ‘Gollum’, Reece Causton (Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man – UK Tour) as ‘Ensemble’, Kelly Coughlin (Avenue 5 – HBO/Sky) as ‘Ensemble’, Geraint Downing (A Christmas Carol – The Old Vic Theatre) as ‘Merry’, Peter Dukes (Brief Encounter – Empire, Haymarket) as ‘Boromir’, Amelia Gabriel (Ride – VAULT Festival) as ‘Pippin’, Tom Giles (Miss Littlewood – Royal Shakespeare Company) as ‘Elrond/Saruman’, Charlotte Grayson (Whistle Down The Wind – The Watermill Theatre) as ‘Rosie’, Nuwan Hugh Perera (Life of Pi – Wyndham’s Theatre, West End) as ‘Sam’, Bridget Lappin (The Rhinegold – English National Opera) as ‘Ensemble/Dance Captain’, Georgia Louise (Tammy Faye – Almeida Theatre) as ‘Galadriel’, Elliot Mackenzie (Whistle Down The Wind – The Watermill Theatre) as ‘Ensemble’, Peter Marinker (Judge Dredd, Love, Actually, Labyrinth) as ‘Gandalf’, Louis Maskell (The Grinning Man – Bristol Old Vic & Trafalgar Studios, West End) as ‘Frodo’, Aoife O’Dea (Innocence – Royal Opera House) as ‘Arwen’, John O’Mahony (Fisherman’s Friends the Musical, UK Tour) as ‘Bilbo’, Yazdan Qafouri (The Band – Theatre Royal Haymarket, West End) as ‘Legolas’, Sioned Saunders (Amélie – Criterion Theatre, West End & The Watermill Theatre) as ‘Ensemble/Onstage Musical Director’ and Aaron Sidwell (EastEnders – BBC, Wicked – UK Tour) as ‘Aragorn’.
As the Hobbits celebrate Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday, he gifts his nephew Frodo his inheritance – including his most precious belonging – a gold ring. Little does he know that his legacy will confront Frodo with an immense and impossible task; a perilous journey across the darkest realms of Mordor to foil the Dark Lord’s quest for total dominion.
Paul Hart said, “Welcoming the cast and creative teams into rehearsals this week has been hugely exciting. The Lord of the Rings is one of the most epic stories ever written, and our production will hopefully bring audiences closer to the heart of this story than ever before – both figuratively and literally in our intimate 200 seat theatre. What’s central to this production is that we’re telling it through the perspective of the Hobbits and hopefully audiences will experience our depiction of Middle-earth with the same awe and wonderment. We’re so fortunate to be working with an incredible creative team and a truly multi-skilled group of performers and we’re determined to make a piece of theatre that will live long in the memory of all who see it!”
Claire Murray said, “For twelve weeks, we are welcoming audiences to experience this incredible musical in our very special corner of West Berkshire. We’re so excited to welcome new audiences to the theatre, coming from far and wide to visit our beautiful grounds for the first time, as well as our wonderful and loyal audiences who have visited us many times before, to see us using our space in a new and exciting way. With the design of the show spilling out from the theatre across our gardens, audiences will be welcomed into the Shire for dinner and drinks in our Restaurant or Garden Café on the lawn, before joining in the celebrations for Bilbo’s birthday which marks the start of the show. Any production is a team effort, and we’re so grateful to our wider community for their support, particularly those who are so kindly hosting our thirty-strong company this summer, and all those who are sharing in our excitement.”
Fredrica Drotos, Director of Brand and Licensing at Middle-earth Enterprises added; “Middle-earth Enterprises along with our good partners at Kevin Wallace Ltd can’t imagine a more fitting locale for the live staging of the Fellowship’s epic adventures from the Shire to Mordor, and back again, than at the Watermill Theatre, set in the bucolic Berkshire countryside.”
The Lord of the Rings will be directed by Paul Hart with design by Simon Kenny, Musical Supervision and Orchestrations by Mark Aspinall, Choreography by Anjali Mehra, Lighting Design by Rory Beaton, Sound Design by Adam Fisher, Projection Design by George Reeve, Associate Directed by Sibylla Archdale Kalid, Puppet Design by Charlie Tymms, and Puppetry Direction by Ashleigh Cheadle. The stage management team are Cat Pewsey (CSM), Katie Newton (DSM), Natalie Toney and Fern Bamber (ASMs) with –Leila Stephenson (ASM Placement).
The Watermill is a 200-seat regional powerhouse, with an unparalleled reputation for producing bold, world-class theatre with local and national reach from its home in West Berkshire. It also has an extensive programme of community outreach, and schools touring work, and a firm commitment to inclusion, environmental sustainability and talent development.
It was the most expensive stage show to date when it opened in Toronto in 2006; but after just one brief year in London, The Lord of the Rings musical closed in July 2008. Now it is being revived, at a small theatre in Berkshire, UK.
The Watermill Theatre, near Newbury in Berkshire, will present an immersive, partially outdoor production of the musical this summer. Their website states that it will be a ‘brand new intimate production’; it will of necessity be massively scaled down from the $25million West End production. Even if the Watermill Theatre had the budget, they don’t have the space which the Theatre Royal Drury Lane production required. The Watermill Theatre’s website tells us, ‘Bursting out of the theatre and into the Watermill gardens, be immersed in the magical landscape of Tolkien and join an ensemble cast and large-scale puppets on an epic journey celebrating the power of friendship and common goodness to conquer unimaginable evil.’
It’s exciting to think that the work will be seen by more people than were able to see it during those brief two years in Toronto and London. It’s not the first attempt to revive this musical; back in 2013, Playbill announced a world tour, planned for 2015 and starting in New Zealand, but nothing more was heard. This time, however, the dates are set (July 25 – Oct 15 this year), and tickets go on sale later this month.
Film Producer Saul Zaentz has passed away at the age of 92. Many Tolkien fans will know him as the man who held the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – but he was so much more: a true Hollywood legend, with countless film projects to his name. He won many Oscars, including Best Picture wins for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The English Patient, and my very favorite film of all time (perhaps with the exception of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) – Amadeus. Continue reading “Academy Award winning Producer Saul Zaentz dies at age 92”
The stars are aligned for today’s *live* webcast TORn TUESDAY, where viewers can be part of the show and ask questions directly to our celebrity guests! Today we are joined by the creative team behind the wildly popular “FELLOWSHIP! The Musical” — an award winning stage production that rips on the first book of Tolkien’s trilogy! I’ve seen it a few times and it’s hysterically good (check out TORn’s previous podcast interview here). Our special guests today include Comedy Central’s RENO 911! star CEDRIC YARBROUGH (who plays Gandalf) and composer ALLEN SIMPSON! There will be mischief aplenty as we also turn our attention to WETA Costume Contest winner NICOLE ROBERTS, who recently completed her trip to New Zealand and has great stories and surprise photos to share. Tune into our show TORn TUESDAY, hosted by Clifford Broadway (Quickbeam), by clicking to our Live Event page. As always, you can participate starting at 5:00pm PDT — There’s a built-in Barliman’s chat room or come in via Skype in TheOneRing.net’s Stickam page. Check out our LIVE Event section right here every week! [LIVE Event Area] (See All Times)