Phantom Special with Kelly Mathieson
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
150 days since the last performance of The Phantom of the Opera in the West End, the most recent actor to play Christine has said it came as a massive shock when the cast, crew and orchestra were released from their contracts with the news that the show would be overhauled with a new version of the original production.
Speaking exclusively to the Backstage With… theatre podcast, Kelly Mathieson, who was Phantom’s leading lady for nearly three years, said, “It’s been difficult to reflect actually, mainly because we’ve gone through quite a lot… because even on that Saturday night… I kind of didn’t think this could be it for us, for me, for the company. So reflecting back took a while because initially I thought I was going back. So that kind of gave me a bit of a light to finish my time.
“Two and a half years has been amazing and I’m so grateful I had [that time], whereas some people like Josh [who played The Phantom] only had five, six months, where I had time to kind of process her. But to reflect back on my time, it’s been hard and actually you kind of avoid doing it because it’s so heartbreaking. I hear the music sometimes and I just can’t listen to it, it’s really hard and difficult and I cannot sing it whatsoever.
“I always worried about the time it would come to the end because my days were so revolved around her, and everything I did for her. And then to suddenly have it just taken away from me, all of a sudden, rather than kind of processing my final shows, my final weeks, it was just over, so it’s been really difficult… I don’t feel like I’ve fully processed it just yet.
“It would’ve just been nice to have had the time to finish, finish a massive, massive journey.”
Mathieson was due to end her run in the show in September 2020. Her departure hadn’t been announced as auditions to replace her were yet to take place.
When all West End theatres closed on 14th March, Mathieson hoped to return to Phantom to complete her run.
She told host Mikey Worrall, “All I knew was that I was going back - when they opened I was going back - and that was it. The phone call when we all found out [we aren’t] was a shock to everyone. We’re all friends with people in Les Mis and Hamilton, and they were all getting phone calls and we were hearing what was going on with them, and they were being told March, April. So when I was going onto that phone call I didn’t exactly think I was gonna be told that I wasn’t gonna go back. That none of us were gonna go back. So it came as a massive shock. I actually still don’t even know what’s happening. None of us know.
“I’ve had to take a step back. It’s not really my business anymore. If anything, I know that I closed the original production.”
Reacting to a photo shared on social media showing the production’s famous chandelier (it falls over the audience before landing on the stage at the end of act one) sitting on the pavement outside the theatre, Mathieson said:
“When I saw that I didn’t really understand what was going on still. The two days before I cleared out my dressing room but I didn’t actually know they were going to be tearing up the theatre. I totally understand it’s not our business so we don’t really know what’s happening. The chandelier I did not expect to see it in the street so that was really sad. I just don’t know what they’re doing. I genuinely don’t.
“It was really upsetting. You just have to kind of respect what’s happened. Everyone’s being made redundant right left and centre. I feel sad for the show and I feel sad for the time we are in but I’m sure that when they started Phantom they had no idea that the show would even go on for 33 years so there was work to do. I can really appreciate that, that there is work to do in the theatre and if they need to revamp it, that’s what they’re gonna do.
“At the end of the day it’s a business. I did my time and I respect what they’re doing. A lot of people say to me ‘but you’re Christine, but you’re their leading lady, you’ve been their leading lady for two and a half years.’ But I’m like ‘no’. My time’s up and that’s just the way it is. It’s a business. That’s what we all have to remember. The arts, the theatre, it’s a business and that is it.
“We’re all in the same boat. It’s not just me, it’s not just Phantom. Other people have lost their jobs and some people will not be going back.”
While it has been confirmed a brand new physical production of Phantom featuring Maria Bjornson’s original design will open at Her Majesty’s theatre in the West End at some point in the future, no timeline has been set out for its return.
Phantom was the oldest musical production in the West End having not been fully updated or adapted with modern technology since its 1986 opening. Mathieson said doing the show was like performing in an antique.
“Everything felt vintage and very old and the theatre felt very old but it was so beautiful and I think that’s what made it so special was that we were such a big team. Everyone backstage, we had a lot of people because there was a lot to do because things were done by hand, and it wasn’t pressing buttons. It was actually really lovely.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Cameron Mackintosh said:
"When Andrew and Cameron re-launch Phantom in London it will be with a brand new physical production of Maria Bjornson's original design, in a refurbished theatre. LWT have just taken a 50 year lease extension on Her Majesty's and will do everything in their power to re-launch, better than ever, once the work is completed. We wish that we could put a date on it - but at this stage there are just too many variables. In summary, we can't tell you exactly when the Phantom will be back but we can tell you that he will be back."
Part two of the Backstage With… Phantom special will be released next Tuesday 18th August, featuring an exclusive interview with Josh Piterman, the last actor to play The Phantom in the West End.