|Scott Davies as the Phantom, 2009-present|
Photo is property of Cameron Mackintosh/RUG
Her Majesty's Theatre
Among the clearest things I learned while studying at the Globe was the idea of hearing a play being performed was even more important than seeing it. Being literally touched by the sound waves of a performer is a different experience than seeing it. And although my favorite musicals are amplified, there is such a thing as natural acoustics and intent energy filling the space.
Of course seeing an entire stage picture is a wonderful thing, but if a company is playing to the whole space, there is still a great amount of story with which one can be touched if it's not seen. On November 18, one of my many Fridays off during the London education experience, I was trying to listen to my Phantom recording to get the blues out of me. I was following on Twitter the then current West End Phantom cast and noticed that Claire Doyle would be playing Christine and Scott Davies would be playing the Phantom. She was understudy, he standby. I decided to go for a walk as show time was approaching. Not living far from Her Majesty's, I was there in a jiffy and saw the cast board as I peaked inside the foyer- more than half the cast was out due to holidays and illnesses.
Already aware of the exquisite sense of play this company gave, I jumped at the chance to see a show filled with on-the-edge staging compromises (which would include the fabled swing track costume of the Hawaiian girl during "Masquerade!" and certainly less people on stage than usual) and a new Phantom/Christine combo. It was something like Ms. Doyle's second ever performance as Christine. The box office went out of its way to release a ticket to me as they saw me in earnest. A 20 sterling nearly half-view seat on the Grand Circle (upper circle), house left, row C. I didn't care, because I knew I would hear them.
|Claire Doyle as Christine, 2011-12|
Photo by Chris Brown
There she was, Claire Doyle as Christine. I believe she had a strong dancing background, and it was more than evident in her performance. With a slight husk in her voice and an open heart chakra, Doyle was a Christine filled with faith. I saw someone who believed in God, who celebrated life! This celebration wasn't a head-in-the-clouds Christine, though. That husk and dark disposition balanced the elements. I almost want to say she was earthy.
Her full body-movement and earthy energy made it seem almost as if she was speaking text. That sounds strange, perhaps, there was this sense that every phrase ended with a energetic stamp from her physicality. This is important in classical theatre because otherwise thoughts and ends of lines get jumbled. There was nothing unclear about this Christine. This was especially effective during what some might call "sung dialogue," such as when she confided with Meg in her dressing room and in the Final Lair confrontations between she and the Phantom. The information just...just came out!
Then there was Scott Davies. Wowza. I was so thrilled to see Scott Davies for similar reasons to my excitement to see Marcus Lovett the following year in the same production. He was an "old school" Phantom, having played the part during the 90s, when casting choices were a little more classical in sound and acting. Dare I say, things were a little more edgy for the Phantom. Although Davies is the standby for the Phantom (since 2009 he has held this title, save for two months in 2010 when he was temporary first cast), he was principal in the UK Tour and West End at the turn of the century.
His classical sound was expressive, deep, and soaring. However, he wasn't afraid to sound ugly when a truthful moment compelled him. His physicality was definitely in league with legendary Phantom of the UK and Canada, Peter Karrie- very tense hands and an awkward, almost wobbling walk. When he would cry out, it was an upper register, straight tone yearn for love.
Like all West End Phantoms I have seen, his interpretation was semi-free form, while still adhering to the physical and emotional arc. During the "close your eyes" verse in "Music of the Night," Davies walked all the way to stage right and back to her, again, for example. A general note- because Her Majesty's stage is so narrow, and the house itself so intimate, actors tend to have more variance in their movements toward stage pictures.
If there's any moment of his I'll never forget, it's his exploration of Christine's lips with his hand after she kissed him in the final scene. The marching drums had started, and he brushed her lips with his hand, in such a state of disbelief. He had to remember the moment. Generally, all London Phantoms I have seen take their time during the marching drums between Christine's kiss to releasing Raoul. It must be encouraged by the resident directors. Every nuance of the Phantom's revelation lands, felt and shared with the audience.
It was an adventurous night at Phantom, and one that has left me an impression on me. Just hearing the show and working hard to see it, I felt the need to be there, and had a community around me in our little section. I felt, like Doyle's Christine, perhaps a little closer to God or the Force, or the Universe that night. My smile couldn't subside. It's that feeling- that knowledge that there is something bigger in this world than our own individual experiences that keeps me going, personally.