Last night I went to the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, where the venue’s small studio area, the SecondSpace, had been converted into a big-screen cinema for a live relay of The Phantom of the Opera’s 25th anniversary gala at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s the first time I’ve been in the SecondSpace when it’s been in use as a performance area: the ingenious, adaptable design allows the seating to retract fully away into the walls and for a partition to be removed, making for a large open-plan bar area which was used for drinks receptions at the venue’s grand opening and at the gala night for last year’s pantomime.
Because of the retractible nature of the seating, I had expected that they wouldn’t be quite as comfortable as the luscious, generously proportioned seats in the main auditorium. And they’re not – but they are far better than I’d imagined, even if the fidgety old couple at the end of our row did cause the whole bank of seats to vibrate every time they shuffled around.
I wasn’t there to review the seats, though, but to see a transmission of the souvenir performance marking 25 years since The Phantom of the Opera blasted onto the West End stage (the actual anniversary is next weekend). A specially constructed set in the Albert Hall took over the whole of the choir and organ end of the auditorium. The upper level boxes were cleverly extended round to include Box Number Five, which the “Opera Ghost” demands is kept for his sole use. The main stage space saw the orchestra perched atop a series of ornate archways, with a lighting rig doubling as a faux proscenium arch that occasionally descended to show activity in the ‘fly tower’ above.