Review Round-Ups

Is the new Lord of the Rings musical revival “precious”?

Paul Hart’s production officially opened at the Watermill Theatre last night

Nuwan Hugh Perera as Sam and Louis Maskell as Frodo in The Lord of the Rings musical
Nuwan Hugh Perera as Sam and Louis Maskell as Frodo in The Lord of the Rings musical, © Pamela Raith

Judi HermanWhatsOnStage,★★★★★

You may well have read the book, seen or heard the film and radio adaptations, or you may have even experienced the previous West End production, but this extraordinary retelling at the Watermill Theatre draws its audience into the narrative like no other medium I have experienced. The story is told with such clarity and verve, you won’t get lost on the epic journey, adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus and directed here by Paul Hart…

“Set and costume design, lighting, sound and projection, choreography, puppetry and fight direction work seamlessly and with wondrous imagination to tell the sweeping tale in little more than three hours. Designer Simon Kenny’s indoor set is breathtaking, deceptively simple at first, but so versatile.”


Mark Lawson, The Guardian, ★★★★

“First seen in the UK in 2007 at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane – a 1996-seat theatre – the show is revived at the 220-capacity Watermill. This means that Simon Kenny’s design and Anjali Mehra’s choreography are a theatrical equivalent of stunts designed to find how many people can fit in a Mini.

“The creative team ought to be listed in a Guinness book of theatrical records. During the long sections inside the tiny theatre, they cram in battles, orc attacks, treks across land, over mountains or through caves and lavish production numbers involving 20 actors or musicians (several performers also play instruments)…

“The original London run is more known for losing money than winning friends. On a stage about 30 times smaller – with budget presumably reduced proportionately – this spectacle of compression, by aiming small, brings big rewards.


Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph, ★★★★

“[Paul] Hart’s big idea is to derive maximum advantage from the homespun, minimalistic nature of the Watermill itself. He harnesses our imaginations in the storytelling, freeing us from the shadow of Peter Jackson’s films in the process, without short-changing us on splendour.

“Refashioning the outside garden areas to include food stalls and tables gives us a welcome early taste of Middle-earth. The opening number, on a custom-built wooden stage, sets the scene in the Shire, with a jigging, merry-making company celebrating the 111th birthday of Bilbo Baggins. The audience, and action, then rove inside, where there’s barely enough room to swing a sword or staff. But that compactness, complementing the compression of the trilogy, ensures a thrilling intimacy. As performed by the actor-musician ensemble of 20, the score (by AR Rahman, Finnish folk band Värttinä and Christopher Nightingale) is felt on the pulse.


Dave Fargnoli, The Stage, ★★★★

“There are a few, precious moments of magic in this ambitious but uneven revival of Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus’ overstuffed epic musical based on Tolkien’s genre-defining trilogy. Adding energy and playfulness to the clunky plot, director Paul Hart makes inventive use of all the Watermill’s unique spaces. The audience arrives to a celebratory atmosphere on the venue’s leafy lawns, with cheerful hobbits capering and singing as they gather for the long-awaited party at which a fateful secret will be revealed. Later, we’re shuffled indoors, where the main story plays out among the atmospheric wooden beams and benches of the intimate auditorium…

“Anjali Mehra’s vivid, breathless choreography inventively fuses English folk dances with energetic bhangra steps, the performers twirling handkerchiefs as they kick up their heels and strike exultant poses. And, played live by a big ensemble of actor-musicians, the score – from Christopher Nightingale, AR Rahman, and Finnish folk band Värttinä – gives each of Tolkien’s fantasy species their own themes. Evil orcs stomp about to blurting brass, while sentient trees converse in a lilting language of hoots, rattles and warbling woodwind. The rustic hobbits belt out boisterous folk songs for the most part, but slip into sweet, sentimental melodies when the journey seems hardest, taking heart by reminiscing over the bucolic lifestyle that they’re fighting to preserve.

Tom Giles as Saruman in a scene from The Lord of the Rings
Tom Giles as Saruman in a scene from The Lord of the Rings, © Pamela Raith

Clive Davis, The Times, ★★★

“If the songs — with lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus — don’t linger in the memory, the 20-strong cast give it their all. While it was a pity we didn’t see more of Louis Maskell’s Frodo, Nuwan Hugh Perera steals scenes as the ever-loyal Samwise Gamgee. Matthew Bug’s Gollum is suitably sinister and Peter Marinker’s Gandalf dispenses wisdom and grace.

“Simon Kenny’s set design, George Reeve’s projections and Rory Beaton’s lighting are miracles of economy. The fight director Dani McCallum delivers stirring battle scenes too, especially considering the stage’s modest dimensions. Charlie Tymms’s puppet design offers moments of Grand Guignol. Just don’t sit too near the front if you have a spider phobia.


Anya Ryan, The i, ★★★

“Hart’s production becomes whole in its music. Using the Watermill’s trademark actor-musician style, the folky score is played out onstage, and sounds strange and dissonant. None of the tunes stay with you – I couldn’t hum a single one. But their eerie melodies are a perfect fit for Middle Earth’s rustic sorcery…

“The story gets lost among the visual sparkle. The overall running time drags, but we need to stay in some scenes a little while longer to grasp their full effect. Will this satisfy Tolkien die-hards? Probably not. But, is it worth it for the trip into a mythical otherworld? Absolutely.

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