When I turned 18 we organised something special to do as a family. So my parents, my sisters, one of my brothers and I were booked to go and see The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End.
I had never been to see any kind of show so this was very exciting. My siblings have all lived in the London area at some point in their lives, but at this time I had not often been to the busy centre of London with all the tourist sights, the atmosphere and the glamour of the West End.
There was a change to our plans however – circumstances taking the dramatic turn they did, it ended up that the evening we had booked to go was the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. It was unprecedented, and for the first time, the theatres closed and all performances were cancelled. We had to reschedule.
Sadly only one of my sisters and her then boyfriend could attend the performance with my parents and me – none the less it was a lovely evening. This was the first time of two that I have seen Phantom in London, the second being in 2000 when my Brazilian penpal came over to England to meet me. (The original production of The Phantom of the Opera opened on October 9th 1986 – so 2009 is its 23rd year!) I had never been to anything like it and the excitement was palpable. I am a country girl, so it was an unusual occurrence to be in the hub of the capital city.
From the opening of the first act, I was utterly transfixed. It is difficult to explain the impact to those who have merely seen the film version, because so much of it, it seems to me, is designed for the stage. The great chandelier rising up above our heads and the thrilling crashing down at the end of Act 1 – this is for the theatre (I should add here that I say ‘cinema’ where Americans would say ‘movie theatre’, so when I talk of ‘going to the theatre’ I’m talking about stage plays, not films!)
The atmosphere was wonderful. The little shrieks that suddenly bubbled up from the audience as we realised the Phantom was sneaking about on top of the chandelier trembling above us, and later on in the show where the Phantom is taking Christine by boat to his lair – the stage was covered in low lying mist, and candles rose up out of it as the boat moved past, utterly convincing. Because the show is such a long running fixture, the effects show all the signs of a theatre made for the performance. I like that fact I have only ever seen it in its ‘home’ theatre. It adds a certain specialness to it.
The dramatic songs and energetic performances were equally as gripping. I loved the entire thing. Although, I have to say, nothing can quite beat that chandelier falling from the ceiling…
My sister had been given complimentary tickets to the restaurant at the top of the OXO tower so after leaving the theatre we went to eat there (a bit of a shock to my stomach at having a main meal after 11pm!) . I had a rack of lamb, if I remember rightly, which was delicious but so rich I was full after four mouthfuls!! I can still visualise the gleaming dome of St Paul’s rising up in the skyscape that was all around us. Actually, looking it up now I realise how recently the restaurant had been opened when we went there.
We didn’t stay overly long in the restaurant, and it worked out perfectly. As we drove back through Westminster Square, Big Ben struck twelve. (Big Ben is actually the name of the bell, not the clock face or tower, although often people refer to it as such.) As I looked up from the car window at the glowing dial and listened to the great, deep ring of midnight, I felt a huge ripple of contentment. It could not have ended better.