A Phantom At The Opera

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I suppose I could try to impress people by telling them how I spent a pleasurable evening at a concert at the Buxton Opera House a week or so ago. But as I don't have any posh friends, and only a few posh colleagues, I guess it's safe to admit that the trip was actually to renew an infatuation from my younger days. No, honestly, it's safe to read on. I promise not to descend into tales of a depraved, wanton, and wasted youth (though I wish I'd had one).

The infatuee in this case is the fabulous Toyah - whose weird and wonderful style fascinated so many young men of my generation. Was it the mass of spiky orange hair? Was it the strange mechanical gyrations? Maybe it was the incredible wandering vocal style? Or just the fact that she was (and still is) gorgeous? And this revisitation to my adolescent infatuations was, in fact, my wife's fault. She saw that Toyah was guest-starring on the latest Vampires Rock tour, and graciously agreed to let me go and see her again after something like 30 years.

So I was spared seeing opera, and instead saw an incredible show. If you get a chance (and you are into rock music), go and see this - or buy the DVD. It's the best night I've had for ages. The live band is superb, as is the scenery, lighting, effects, cast, and pretty much everything else. It's even got comedy, lots of (stage) blood and gore, and Emily Clark (who plays Pandora) has the most amazing voice. She does Suzi Quattro as good as Suzi Quattro, and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" very nearly as well as Bonnie Tyler. Just don't expect too much of a story...

And, yes, Toyah was as wonderful as ever. Still as exciting to watch, and she still has a fabulous voice. It's just a shame she didn't get to do "It's a Mystery" or "Angels and Demons". Best of all, though, she is just as weird as she was thirty years ago. In fact she admitted in a recent TV interview that, after doing the Gobi desert "Great Walk to Beijing" with Danni Minogue, Danni had said that "Toyah was the maddest person she knew".

But enough trivia. What continues to surprise me is how the technical management of shows like this is so bound up in computerized technology these days. When I was still at school, it was blatantly clear to all that I couldn't sing, act, remember lines, or look anything other than odd and geeky. So I never got a role in a school play. But I could build stuff like bubble machines and disco lighting gizmos (all driven by relays, cams, and zonking big washing machine motors in those days) so - together with some friends - we were in charge of the "effects" for plays and concerts.

It took three of us to do thunder and lightning (with a tape recorder, dustbin lids, and a couple of spotlights), and five to untangle the microphone wires at the end of each act. And trying to get the right music and sound effects to occur at the right times was a massive feat of engineering involving 8-track cartridge players, BBC "Sounds Off" LPs, and large volumes of sheer luck.

Now, it seems, they just press a button and the whole concert happens. I watched them testing some of the settings on the control deck. Or, rather, I watched one guy clicking the mouse a few times. The whole show, including sounds, lighting, effects, fireworks, and even the scripts and timings, are preset in some fancy Windows application. I guess it's just the natural progress of technology into all walks of life, but I wonder if it takes away some of the magic of theatre?

Still, it will take something special to surpass the sight and sound of Luke Morley strutting across the front of the stage with blood running between his fangs while playing Slash's lead riff from "Sweet Child of Mine"...

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A Phantom At The Opera