Is there a greater role in musical theatre? Stephen John Davis reckons there probably isn’t.
The Phantom (of the Opera fame) is as good as it gets, he says. It’s also the role which unites Stephen with
Earl Carpenter and Matthew Cammelle.
Together they are touring as Three Phantoms with dates at the Theatre Royal Brighton on Thursday and Friday, June 6 and 7 and Worthing Pavilion Theatre on June 14 and 15.
“It was a concept that Earl came up with,” explains Stephen. “The Phantom is just such an iconic role that people can relate to.”
And for the performers, part of the fascination is that there really is scope for them to bring their own personalities into play.
“You can bring your own take onto the whole thing. There are stage directions that obviously you have to follow, but within that, with the character you can do your own thing.
“Otherwise the audience might just as well stay at home and watch the film!
“When I look back at it, I remember I just wanted to get into the psyche of the thing and think how I would react in those circumstances. Every actor will provide thoughts of their own.
“I didn’t actually watch Earl in the part. I don’t think any of us has seen the other, but obviously different actors will have different styles.
“It even depends from day to day. It depends who your Christine is. It depends on how you get a line delivered to you. You might deliver a line quite quietly one night and then almost shout it the next. If you have had a frustrating day, it will come out!
“I remember an interview with Billy Connolly that was on, I think, the South Bank Show, and he was talking about the psychiatry that he had been taking, talking about his childhood which had been difficult.
“And the psychologist came up with the idea, which I found terribly interesting and which was very helpful to him, that if something happens to you as a child, however young you are, maybe someone says something that really hurts you quite deeply, then it will stay with you,
“And then if someone, perhaps 30 years later, says the same sort of thing, it will still evoke the same emotional response.”
For Stephen, it was certainly his way into the dark character of the Phantom.
As he says, you’ve got to remember that this is someone whose mother used to put a bag over his head, someone who was always shunned, always avoided.
When years later, Christine also rejects him, then almost inevitably his thoughts turn murderous – especially when nothing is acknowledged of all that he has achieved.
“I see the Phantom as a tragic character. It all stems from his childhood.”
So is there a better role? “I would have to say no. I am so heavily involved in Phantom. There are many roles that I would like to do, but this is one I have really enjoyed, the fact that you can do anything with it. It is all about how you convey the emotions.”
Part of the challenge, of course, is that you are wearing a half mask.
“That’s the genius. They don’t mask him completely. They gave the Phantom one half of his face to work with, and if you look closely, it is very much matinee idol make-up on that left side of his face. The right side is covered by the mask, but that left side gives you the opportunity to show the emotions, to show the hurt...”