At an estimated cost of £12.5 million, the spectacle, described by its creators as “Shakespeare meets Cirque du Soleil”, is the most expensive production in West End history. The 45-foot stage alone, equipped with three revolves and 17 lifts, cost £1 million. In addition to the expense, the design for The Lord of the Rings is the most high-tech and physically complex in the West End. The show also features stilt-walking, giant leaping and aerial choreography, as well as dance, illusions, magic and other special effects. Ensemble members were required to undergo weeks of boot-camp style training before rehearsals began back in February (See News, 8 Feb 2007).
Since its Canadian run, the piece has been substantially revised and the running time shorted by 40 minutes to just over three hours. The Lord of the Rings has a book and lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus, and music by Bombay Dreams’ AR Rahman and Finnish folk group Värttinä with Christopher Nightingale (See News, 21 Oct 2003). It’s directed by Warchus, with design by Rob Howell and choreography by Peter Darling.
The 50-strong company is led by: James Loye (as Hobbit hero Frodo), Peter Howe (Sam), Michael Therriault (Gollum), Malcolm Storry (Gandalf), Jerome Pradon (Aragorn), Rosalie Craig (Arwen), Steven Miller (Boromir), Michael Rouse (Legolas), Sevan Stephan (Gimli), Richard Henders (Merry), Owen Sharpe (Pippin), Brian Protheroe (Saruman), and Laura Michelle Kelly (Galadriel).
For first night critics, there was no middle ground for this Middle Earth show: it was love it or loathe it. The ‘lovers’ included, notably, Sam Marlowe in The Times and the Guardian’s Tolkien neophyte Michael Billington, both of whom paid “tribute” to the skills of Matthew Warchus and his creative team in achieving a true spectacle, with “charm, wit and jaw-dropping theatrical brio”. And even the ‘loathers’ couldn’t help but admire the “impressive” feats of designer Rob Howell, particularly his angular arachnid, although most felt that this was not “sufficient compensation for other inadequacies”. For fans of the Peter Jackson films, disappointment in this stage adaptation seemed most acute.
- by Terri Paddock