Review: Chesterfield Studios triumph in The Phantom of the Opera

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It may not be the glitzy West End production, with its elaborate candlelit set and huge glittering chandelier that really feels as if it’s crashing into the audience – but the young performers of Chesterfield Studios are certainly the next best thing.

Their Phantom of the Opera is playing to near-full houses at the Pomegranate this week, and they’re making a first-rate job of it.

Artistic director Jonathan Francis has assembled a top-class team, including professional director Carole Copeland, a 16-piece orchestra and the Pomegranate’s own highly experienced backstage team, and it pays off.

The staging is simple. A few gothic arches, a staircase and an upper level with decorative railing become opera house stage, dressing room, graveyard and the underground hideout of the Phantom, with the help of carefully chosen props.

The costumes verge on the sumptuous; the Masquerade scene which opens Act Two is ablaze with colour and variety.

And the performers are stars in the making.

The chorus of ballet girls float around like thistledown. Philip Jacques and Ed Telfer lighten the mood as the interfering owners of the Opera House, with added humour from Jess and Sam Widdowson as prima donna (in every sense) Carlotta and her leading man Piangi. Ellie Ward is suitably stern (and sweet-voiced) as ballet mistress Madame Giry.

As the Phantom himself, Ryan Mitchell captures the menace and the underlying pain, and copes well with the demanding music, though his voice is a little rough in places.

Which leaves only Christine and Raoul, the leading lady and her man. With singing voices to melt the knees and the kind of acting talent that can’t be taught, Jenny Whittaker and Edward Jowle could transfer into a professional production tomorrow, and you wouldn’t see the join. Both are surely destined to see their names in lights.

A critic can’t afford to deal in superlatives very often, but there’s no other way to describe this production, and the thunderous applause on the first night agreed. Now Phantom of the Opera is available to youth theatre groups, no doubt more productions will follow, but they’ll struggle to top this one. It’s quite simply a triumph, for cast, director and everyone involved.

The London version may have more glamour, but Chesterfield’s first-ever Phantom has more than enough to compensate.

LYNNE PATRICK