Sunday, 10 June 2012

Phantom of the Opera (Big Finish Version)

This particular version of Phantom of the Opera is a radio play that was made by Big Finish Productions. This company specialises in producing audio books and radio plays and has done many for Doctor Who. Back in 2007 Big Finish were commissioned to do a four-part adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera for BBC Radio. This version of The Phantom of the Opera is narrated by Madame Giry and there's an interesting difference between this version and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation. In the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Christine Daae and Meg Giry are supposed to be good friends but in this version it's Meg and Carlotta who are good friends! This version also features an original character called Adele. She's a cockney maid who provides quite a bit of comic relief.

In case you're getting the impression that this version of POTO doesn't follow Gaston Leroux's novel particularly closely and is yet another unfaithful adaptation of the book then you should be very pleasantly surprised :) Of all of the various film, television and stage adaptations that I've seen of Leroux's book this version is actually the most faithful that I've come across! It follows the story extremely closely. The events occur in the same order as the book and much of the dialogue is word-for-word accurate. This version includes many things that are usually left out in POTO adaptations. We get the the cemetery scene at Perros where the Phantom plays The Resurrection of Lazarus to Christine on his violin. We get the Safety Pin chapters. We even get the Persian, Phillippe and Madame Valerius! This version is also written as a mystery. That's wonderful because this is a very important aspect of Leroux's book that none of the other adaptations have quite been able to capture. Most of the other adaptations seem to assume that the audience already knows the basic story of POTO so they'll usually reveal the Phantom's character almost immediately. But this version doesn't reveal the Phantom straight away and it gives information about his character slowly, and by doing this they're able to build up the tension and heighten the suspense. Yet another way in which this version stays true to the book is that - despite Madame Giry narrating for quite a lot of the story - it's actually Raoul who is the main character. Raoul is very likeable in this version and he even gets some funny lines from time to time :)

Even though this is a radio play there are a few famous names in this version. Madame Giry is played by Anna Massey (who is sadly deceased). I've only seen her play Mrs Stoke-D'Uberville in the BBC's recent adaptation of Tess of the D'Ubervilles. I thought she was excellent in that even though she didn't have much screen-time. I know she's also supposed to be excellent in The Importance of Being Earnest and in a 70s' TV adaptation of Rebecca where she played Mrs Danvers but I haven't seen either of those yet. The Persian is played by Alexander Siddig who is most famous for playing Dr Julian Bashir in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Raoul is played by James D'Arcy and he's been in Master and Commander, the ITV adaptation of Mansfield Park and the, er, Madonna film W.E.

Since you can't really do a POTO review without mentioning the music I should point out that the music in this radio play is really, really good. It features both original music from Tim Sutton as well as opera music from Faust and Otello. This version is also one of the few non-musical adaptations of the book where we actually get to hear the Phantom sing! The only other non-musical adaptation where he sings (that I know of) is the Charles Dance version.

There really isn't much that I can criticise about this version actually. It's just so good that I can't really think of anything to criticise! I think my favourite thing about this version though is that it features the final scenes of the book. I'm not talking about Christine giving Erik that redemptive kiss because other versions have featured this too. This version has the scene that happens later on. It has the scene where Erik has his final conversation with the Persian. This is probably the most moving scene in the entire book but none of the other versions have it apart from this one! This radio play is well worth a listen! You can buy the CD from Amazon - as I did - although I'm told that it's occasionally played on BBC Radio 7.

Now that I've heard this radio play I'm dying for the BBC to do a Leroux-faithful miniseries. I'd been wanting them to make one anyway but hearing this radio play has only increased the desire! And if they were to use this radio play as the basis for their script then I don't see how they could go far wrong! Essentially they should just do this radio play on screen and stretch it out to 3 or 4 hours. I'd want them to film it on location in Paris and at the Opera Garnier, I'd want Christine to be blonde, and I'd want them to include some flashbacks of Christine and Raoul's childhood. Maybe they could even include flashbacks of the Phantom's childhood as well.

Rating: 5/5


Anonymous said...

Have you heard the Phantom Reviewer's review of this? It's really quite similar.

Hannah said...

Hello! Yes I have but not for a long time. I wouldn't be surprised if my post is similar to his. I think I heard his review before I even listened to this radio drama so some of his criticisms might have filtered their way through.