x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Teen Life: Escaping grey skies at the theatre

Before the excitement of the Olympics opening ceremony descended on the city, Lavanya Malhotra found solace in the enduring appeal of The Phantom of the Opera in London.

Among teenagers, trends come and go all the time. What might hold every adolescent spellbound today is likely to be forgotten about completely in a few weeks time, to be greeted by a petulant whine of "Like, whatever, that's so yesterday" if it resurfaces. There are some classic things, though, like trench coats or the little black dress, which will always have a universal appeal.

All the world loves a lover, but there's something about a love triangle and all its consequent dilemmas and heartbreaks that the world loves even more. People appreciated it in the Elizabethan era, when Shakespeare sent both Demetrius and Lysander hankering after Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream. And they still do, although you could be forgiven for excluding yourself from this generalisation with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight introducing us to the forever-whinging Bella, Edward and Jacob triangle.

While visiting London, I made up my mind to see a West End musical, their advertising strategies having clearly paid off. You can't take a train in the Underground or walk along one of the main streets without seeing a board displaying a brollie-toting man urging you to watch Singin' in the Rain, or that omnipresent blonde whispering into the ear of the green young lady from Wicked.

With a last-minute ticket for the matinée show of The Phantom of the Opera, I followed the crowd into Her Majesty's Theatre, a magnificently ornate, baroque-style building constructed in 1897. The foyer alone is a treat to look at, with gilded detailing and all the works that make you wish you'd worn something cleaner.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux's immortal novel is one of the most endearing stories of all time, weaving the oft-used but never boring love triangle idea into a dark, fantastical thriller. Christine Daae is a young singing prodigy in the Paris opera house. However, the opera house is haunted by a phantom, "the opera ghost", a masked poltergeist with a disfigured face who is a musical genius. He takes Christine under his wing, falls in love with her, teaches her how to sing in his home in the shadowy basements and helps her career take off. Christine, annoyingly, gets engaged to a childhood friend instead. In the end, the phantom disappears. It makes you teary-eyed, but that's women for you.

This particular performance featured one of the grandest sets I've seen anywhere, with the famous broken chandelier a humongous glittering specimen and the masquerade scene a gorgeous symphony of opulent colours, lacy frills and brocade.

The orchestra pulled off Lloyd Webber's dramatic score with aplomb, while Wendy Ferguson, as the fussy Carlotta, had a soaring soprano voice with a brilliantly grating vibrato.

The brooding phantom, Peter Joback, and Sofia Escobar as Christine, were a delight to listen to, although I'm not sure if Joback portrayed his character's underlying vulnerability as sublimely.

That said, Phantom was the finest production I've seen for some time; a magical melange of superb acting, haunting music and cleverly constructed scenes straight out of a fairy tale that transported me to a mysterious world far away from the dismal grey skies of London.