The last ten years have been quite an emotional rollercoaster for Tolkien fans. First of all, some unknown Kiwi ‘Splatter’ geezer called Peter Jackson turns up and says he is going to turn The Lord Of The Rings into a movie. No, three movies.
Oh, the worry! Oh, the sleepless nights! Who is this guy? How is he going to do it? What is a Kiwi?... then it came. December, 2001. The Fellowship Of The Ring is released. And somewhere off a howling track in a typically wintery West Wales, I creep into a small, hidden away local cinema for local people. I sit. I fidget. Please don’t be a repeat of that awful 1978 animated mess.
And it wasn’t. It was a masterpiece. As were the two movies that followed. The Tolkien community released a collective sigh of relief... for a while.
Guillermo del Toro is now giving The Hobbit the same treatment. Over two movies! Peter Jackson is again involved, but will it work? Can a different director really echo what Jackson brought to it? Here we go again!
And then there was the Lord Of The Rings stage show! So much expectation, but this time the response was not so warm. The book was always said to be unfilmable. That was corrected by modern technology, a clear vision, a love of the story, and 3 movies that clock over three hours each. How could the stage possibly do any justice to the book?
But here tonight, we have a far more achievable goal: The Hobbit.
One book. A children’s story. Not overly complicated. Large in scale, but nowhere near that of The Lord Of The Rings. They might actually pull this off.
Bilbo Baggins, a quiet and contented Hobbit, is given a ‘nudge’ by the great Gandalf the Grey in the direction of adventure. The dwarves have had their kingdom and treasure captured by the evil dragon, Smaug, and Bilbo is just the thieving little Hobbit they have been looking for.
Goblins, giant spiders, trolls, wolves... this is one journey that Bilbo Baggins will never forget. Oh, and he comes across a little ‘precious’ ring. But that’s not important.
Expectations were high for me and my equally geeky friend, sitting fidgeting by my side. We really wanted to love it.
But we didn’t.
The story is fantastic and they stick true to it. There are cuts here and there, but they are warranted and even diehard fans can forgive them for these.
But the problem for me is an apparent lack of clarity about who they are targeting for this production.
The first half is clearly aimed at children. The performances are all very camp (an aspect of the entire production that isn’t helped by the awful 80’s sounding music) and there are a couple of scenes that are just cringeworthy and completely pointless. A dancing scene towards the end of the first half is absolutely unforgivable... but the kids seemed to love it. And The Hobbit is a book for kids. Maybe this is what they are going for? Because some of the grown-ups didn’t come back for the second half. Though they should have.
The second half is a lot darker than the first. The death scenes are far more graphic and the singing and dancing have ceased to exist. The performances are still too big and brash and the terrible use of sound effects still irritates to the highest degree, but there is a sense of a greater effort having been put in, particularly in the closing 30 minutes.
However, the children have started to drift to sleep just as the adults have awoken. Both only really have half a show to enjoy, when the entire show should have been for everybody.
From the beginning to end, the show takes the same leap in tone that takes place from the start of The Fellowship Of The Ring to The Return Of The King. From light to incredibly dark. And The Hobbit just isn’t really like that. One gets the impression that they felt, after the release of the movies, there was an obligation to follow the same road in order to achieve critical and box office success.
But it just didn’t work.
The set looks great. The costumes are mostly fine (well, apart from some questionable wolves) and Smaug really does make quite an imposing dragon.
It cannot, however, just look good. The Hobbit needs so much more than that.
Sadly, this was not one show to rule them all.
Tue 23 & Thu 25 – Sun 28 March
Tue – Sat 7.30pm / Sat 2.30pm & Sun 3.00pm
Tickets: £16.50 - £24.00