Critics Call: The Lord Of The Rings

The journey from page to stage for JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has been a long one.

After being critically savaged in Toronto, the near four-hour production was tightened and re-written considerably before making the transfer to London.

Then its lengthy preview period was interrupted by the on-stage injury of a cast member. Finally on the 19th June it opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s West End.
Said to cost over 12.5 million, the musical is the most expensive production in West End history. Much of this expense is down to the high-tech and physically complex nature of the show. Even with its revisions it still runs to over three hours.

The critical response has been mixed to put it mildly. Some were enchanted, others infuriated. Perhaps one of the most surprising supporters of the show was Michael Billington at the Guardian. He gave the show four stars and said he was “hugely impressed” by the in which, despite the expense involved in bringing it to the stage, the show avoided becoming a “heartless industrialised spectacle.” He admired the special effects though concluded that “on the whole, it is not a show for connoisseurs of acting.”

Sam Marlowe in the Times was also positive. Having seen the show in Toronto and been disappointed, she concluded that “happily, almost everything that was wrong has been put right.” She went on to say that: “Warchus and his team have created a brave, stirring, epic piece of popular theatre that, without slavishly adhering to JRR Tolkien’s novels, embraces their spirit.” Mark Shenton in The Stage was also taken with it, commenting on how “it both looks and behaves as a spectacular piece of music theatre, and there isn’t a single production element that doesn’t impress and frequently thrill.”

At the other end of the spectrum Michael Coveney on called it “three hours of over-budgeted nonsense” and accused it of having “no coherence and no narrative rhyme or reason” before adding that “to say the show was completely stilted would be an understatement.”

Charles Spencer in the Telegraph was blunter still, labeling it a “thumping great flop,” before laying into the “the ponderous inanities of the script and the triteness of the lyrics” and saying that his fourteen year old son thought it was just as appalling as he did. Paul Taylor in the Independent was more even-handed, singling out Michael Therriault’s Gollum for praise and complimenting some of the music before concluding that “as a piece of music drama, this show is unlikely to blow you away.”

Kieron Quirke in the Evening Standard was far more cutting in his verdict: “The attempt to condense the 20th century’s most popular epic into three hours has resulted in an empty-headed and messy extravaganza that will appal established fans and baffle newcomers.” He too praises Therriault’s performance before concluding that “you can’t fill three hours with set-pieces, and this remains a folly, ill-fated at conception, tedious and vulgar in execution.”

The Lord of The Rings is booking at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until March 2008

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