The Hobbit, Norwich

JOHN LAWSON Middle Earth was brought vividly to life at the Theatre Royal in a visually spectacular adaptation of Tolkien's classic.

JOHN LAWSON

Middle Earth was brought vividly to life at the Theatre Royal in a visually spectacular adaptation of Tolkien's classic.

Elves, goblins, lakesmen and trolls all stalked the stage amid much theatrical smoke and eerie lighting on David Shields's impressive set.

Hundreds of millions of readers have developed their own impressions of Tolkien's fantasy characters since he conjured Middle Earth into existence more than half a century ago.


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So to bring them to life on the stage is a brave challenge in itself even before attempting to condense the truly epic stories down to a manageable length.

But costume designer Abigail Hammond has done a fine job with the help of a sizeable special effects crew giving adaptor Glyn Robbins a fine canvas on which to paint the best of the master storyteller's words.

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Add some pacy direction from Roy Marsden, enjoyable choreography by Stephanie Carter and some folky medieval-sounding original music from Mark Bloxsidge – who seems to specialise in fantasy adventures – and we had a feast for eye and ear (albeit the ear was frequently assailed by one of the noisiest pieces of scenery I have ever come across in a theatre!).

Daniel Copeland made a likeable Bilbo Baggins, forever trying to appease all sides while making sure he made it hope in one piece, while David Banks was an imposing Gandalf, the master sorcerer.

William Byrne was not as kingly as I would have liked as Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf king in exile – but for a truly regal performance you needed look no further than Paul Mihell as the shadowy Gollum locked away in perpetuity in his cave.

He captured the imagination of both adults and children in the packed first-night house.

But while the show has much to commend it, I feel that the magic of Tolkien's story has still escaped. At almost two-and-a-half hours it is arguably too long and complicated to hold the imagination of children while it does not contain the strength of script or performance to capture the adults. A valiant attempt which I felt just missed the target.

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