Phantom: a 19th Century parable or 21st Century reality?

I finally got to see the Phantom of the Opera last night 14 years on since it was created – not that I didn’t know the story – I’d seen the film on a plane years ago. It was a birthday present to me so we made an evening of it… food before, great entertainment… much relaxation all round.

I winced at the painful lyrics – ‘ my hideous visage’ or words to that effect – and connived in the sympathy wafting towards the Phantom from the audience but comforted myself with the argument that ‘of course, that was the 19th Century and things have changed so much since – much less stigma today about facial disfigurement. I had walked in, maskless, through the front door of the theatre after all not via the cellars…

Coming out at the end into the wet reality of central London, 21st Century style – with i-Phones flashing and beeping – I found myself being stared at by a respectable middle-aged woman who then blurted out to her friends and everyone else milling around – ‘ Hey, look, there’s the Phantom – over there, look’… did a double take, turned and walked off.

My wife who’d witnessed it was as flabbergasted as I was – in 2010… My daughter captured me on camera in front of the Phantom of the Opera sign a few minutes later, in a state of shock frankly but refreshed and newly committed to the cause. Not hurt but reminded in stark terms how far there is to go before people’s cultural reflexes are civilised towards facial disfigurement.

Two hours earlier, I’d congratulated Lucas one of young Face Equality Champions on his powerful advocacy on BBC Breakfast TV against bullying in school – and he’d been to the Anti-Bullying Summit where he and others had made our case to stamp out bullying in the playground – you can read and watch more on our website:

Reading in the programme notes that the sequel to Phantom is set on Coney Island where the 1890s freak shows were played out is profoundly depressing. Thousands of people are seeing these – I think I need to write to Lord Lloyd-Webber to suggest he commits to our Face Equality campaign – or perhaps he could construct a 21st Century parable next?

More immediately, everyone should watch tonight’s documentary on BBC3 – see


2 thoughts on “Phantom: a 19th Century parable or 21st Century reality?

  1. Phantom of the Opera is about to be set up here in Sweden as well and I was recently asked to sit down with the producer and have a chat about what it’s like to live with a facial disfigurement. I thought it was a good initiative to actually discuss this in relation to this play. I’m looking forward to having this chat and we’ll see what comes out of it; hopefully better experiences for the audience than what you had. I’m gonna take those points you took up here with me when I chat to him.

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