My good lady and I visited our friends in Kent (which is a lovely place by the way, I'd never have guessed there was such a nice area so close to London – although it's a little out of my price bracket) and spent a good 3 hours of our Saturday night watching the stage version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If nothing else I wanted to see how they could fit 3 novels worth of story (the standard films of course totalled around 9 hours – 11 for the extended version). In short, they cut rather a lot out!
I'll start with the positives. The effects really were amazing – like nothing I've seen on stage before – from making Bilbo disappear at the start (I'm sure it was something to do with mirrors – but it was very impressive) to the stage itself (which was composed of several sections that could move up and down independently) to the Balrog (big fiery demon bloke), the giant spider (which produced rather a lot of gasps from people in the theatre). It was clear that a hell of a lot of money had been spent on the production and the result was astonishing.
The athleticism and acrobatics are worth a mention too. The orcs were somersaulting around on springy stilts as though they were on wires (they weren't) and the physicality of the dancing was really impressive. Plus, the guy playing Gollam was really good too. Aside from playing the split personality well, his movement, flexibility and the way he leaped around the stage in a manner no human should be able to was incredible – his body's going to be wrecked when he hits his 40s!
So all in all it was a really impressive visual experience. Which brings me onto the negatives. Firstly, the music didn't really hit the high drama levels you'd expect from a play such as this. To suck you into the plot you need those bits of music that just send tingles down your spine but that wasn't the case here. Also, some of the singing wasn't of the standard you'd expect from the west end. To give you an example, during the first song by the hobbits I thought to myself "I can sing about as well as that" which if you've ever had the misfortune to hear my singing tells you all you need to know!
There was one scene with the Elves leaving middle earth near the start that was excellent. Strong music, strong and powerful singing along with strong emotions. Sadly the rest of the play didn't measure up to that level. Next was some of the acting. The guy playing Aragorn just didn't sound convincing at all. I don't know if he was the understudy or not but his performance lacked any authority or passion. Likewise the wizards were a bit light on the authority front. Hearing Gandalf giggling like a schoolgirl when the decision was made to create the fellowship of the ring at the start just wasn't what I'd expect. Still, it could have been worse, Gandalf could have had a solo! (Actually, that would have been funny).
As for the story itself, the way they fitted it into 3 hours was to cut out a hell of a lot of the original story. This had the effect that if you hadn't read the books or seen the film you wouldn't have had the slightest clue what the hell was going on. It seemed from scene one that they were trying to rush through the dialogue, but then they'd linger for ages on an irrelevant scene like at Lothlorian which is a minor diversion from the plot at best.
So like the curate's egg, the show was good in parts. Well worth seeing for the incredible effects and stage. But if you're going for the singing or the acting or as a diehard fan of the trilogy, then you might be a bit disappointed.