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One Man Lord Of The Rings
Published on Saturday, 08 August 2009

Charles Ross, one-man star of One Man Lord of the Rings, pauses to take a poll of his audience in the break between the first two books. "By way of applause," he says, "how many people have seen the Lord of the Rings films?" The room breaks out in furious clapping. "How many people have read the books?" Much less applause this time. "Okay, applaud if you've neither seen the films or read the books." One brave soul claps valiantly.

He then fluffs it by letting us know that, when so few people clap at reading the books, he can always tell he's in England, but his other point is a good one. This will be completely impenetrable if you don't know the Lord of the Rings pretty well. For better or for worse, I do - and I found the show intelligent and energetic, certainly, but overall a good deal patchier than its One Man Star Wars predecessor.

Ross's top asset is his skill as an impressionist. His Gandalf is probably the best-observed, the plummy intonations sometimes making it seem Sir Ian McKellen was there with us. His country-bumpkin Sam and wide-eyed, effete Frodo are also spot on, and he can 'gollum' with the best of them. Although painting Orlando Bloom as a bit girlish might seem an easy target, the point where Legolas joins the fellowship drew gasps of delight from many in the sell-out crowd (a breathless "you can have my hair").

But a series of good impressions and subtle (and not-so-subtle) in-jokes does not translate into a widely-accessible show. I think the key problem is that, as big a hit as the Rings movies were in the early Naughties, they don't exist in the popular imagination in the same way Star Wars does - and Wars was a good deal more histrionic than po-faced Rings in any case. The campy space opera ("Luke, at that speed do you think you'll be able to pull out in time?") lent itself better to affectionate send-up, simply because more people will be in on the joke.

Still, there's plenty here to keep Rings fans happy. Key sequences from the movie are recreated in a likeably frenetic manner, key characters faithfully parodied, and key plot holes amusingly poked. Ross recognises the problem of a broader audience's familiarity with the work, and jabs gently at it throughout - as his Saruman, the treacherous White Wizard of Orthanc, says, "Do you know how the Orcs came to be? Read The Silmarillion."

That level of commitment can't be expected of a Fringe audience, or, in fact, of anyone other than the most devoted Tolkien acolyte - but there's probably enough to enjoy if you've seen the movies, read the books, or got the 'Frodo lives!' t-shirt. If you haven't, Sir Ian can have the last word on the merits of Ross's stage show versus the films... "at least his is shorter."

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