Reflecting on the Phantom – An Interview with Earl Carpenter

“That immersion, that bit of that permission to sit there and forget about the rest of your day, is what makes it as successful as it is.”

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Earl Carpenter, who recently returned to The Phantom of The Opera and starred in the titular role after being away from Her Majesty’s Theatre for over a decade. We talked about how he got involved in the world of theatre, what it’s like to be in iconic shows, and what it is about Phantom that makes it so appealing to audiences. 

So how did you first get involved in acting?

Oh, gosh! [Laughs] 

We’re starting from the beginning!

When I first started getting involved with acting . . . I think it came from an inability for me to learn when I was at school. I struggled terribly at school, so performance was an outlet for me. It was a safe environment, it was a nonjudgmental environment to what was an incredibly judgmental education. So I think that is what drew me to that – Freedom, and actually not being picked on or bullied. And then from that, I went down the amateur dramatic groups and did that for several years and then ended up going to a small little theatre school on the south coast of England. Didn’t go to London because I realized that the only necessity of going to theatre school in London was to do the end-of-term showcase. And I thought, “Well, I can do that!” I’d already started a theatre company down on the south coast and so I did! I put a little showcase together, a friend of mine got his agent to come and see, and six weeks later, I got my first professional acting job working for the producer Bill Kenwright, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What has it been like to be part of two iconic shows, Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, and to come back to them so often?

It’s been extraordinary, and I don’t use that word lightly. I think coming back to a show also makes you realize how one might not have appreciated the first time you joined the show. What’s been really fascinating about being back in Phantom at the moment is the unlocking of memories. I mean, I first joined the Phantom of the Opera Company in the West End 20 years ago, so there’s a lot of history with this building. And this building doesn’t particularly change, nor does the area that it sits in because it’s all Grade II listed, so nothing can be rebuilt. So from that point of view, it’s very triggering. You do take a lot of the journey for granted when you’re pursuing a career and I am very grateful to be given the extracurricular experiences. We are a part of something that is incredibly iconic, that is standing the test of time. And I’m one of a small group of people who have had those opportunities, and it has a lot of value to me now more than ever before.

What is it like to take on such an iconic role like the Phantom?

If you’d asked me that question twenty years ago, I would answer it differently. This time around I have felt more in control of it – I have felt more relaxed with it. I have nothing to prove from the point of view that I’ve been asked to come back. The pressure is off! And I come back to this particular role with 12 or 13 years of additional experience. So it’s actually really nice to be in this building, enjoying myself, enjoying the process, not taking it too seriously, but enjoying doing a good job. And actually, the lack of that pressure has enabled me vocally to enjoy it a lot more as well. Because obviously, if you put too much pressure on yourself, the first thing to decide to give up is always the voice. So it’s been nice to get back into it and not really worry about delivering. So that’s been great and really, really refreshing.

How do you take a role like the Phantom and make it your own? 

You do naturally! Because I’m me, I’m not duplicating. I’m not doing an impersonation of someone else. I’m just me. So ultimately, you will always bring different things to the role by your very stature, your tonality or grasp of the story and the storytelling, and hearing the music different ways to other people might hear it. I don’t set out to be different. I just set out to listen to what else is going on and be aware that it’s not just me making a moment work. It’s a team of original designers and creators who have decided the journey. It’s just my job to fit into that. So I can’t necessarily make it mine – I’ve got to work with what is there. I think that’s served me well for many years – Actually understanding what’s going on behind me rather than trying to get the audience to look at me.

What is it like to come back to the shows and work with different cast members and crew members?

Well, there’s some who are still here! That’s what’s interesting. But it’s like any show. I’ve sat with shows for a number of years, so you’re always working with different people. But the irony of that, though, is that we all look similar, because we’re wearing particular clothing, we were all in a particular mold. You’re not a million miles from the last person that was in it. So it’s often confusing, especially if you’re having a moment of automatic pilot, and you look out to someone and call their name and go, “Oh, actually, no, that was like four casts ago! You’re someone different!” But everyone obviously brings something very different to what they’re doing, which helps you in respect to what you’re doing as an actor.

Why do you think that Phantom of the Opera has been so successful over the last few decades?

If I knew that, I’d be a multi-multi-multimillionaire! 


That’s a really difficult question to answer because truthfully, I don’t know. But there is something in its iconic-ness. . . Its story is real Beauty and the Beast. It’s an incredibly emotive and powerful love story. But now, I think what makes it the success that it is, is because it’s a trustworthy piece of entertainment. People are coming to something that is robust, that is theatrically exciting, visually exciting, audibly exciting. It’s steeped in tradition of theatre making and I think it ticks all the boxes for someone who wants a night out of complete immersion you know. I think this show does that, as does Les Misérables and as do a lot of the older musicals that are in the catalog, so to speak. But I think it’s unashamedly fantasy, which is amazing, and I think people love that. That immersion, that bit of that permission to sit there and forget about the rest of your day, is what makes it as successful as it is. 

Do you have a favourite part of the show? 



It’s all great! Every part is great. And again, each show is different. There’s something different that goes on, there is something different that might happen. It might be a different Christine, a different MD . . . Every show is different, so every moment is different. But no, just being in work. [Laughs] Particularly at the moment with the world being what it is.

What do you hope audiences take away from Phantom of the Opera?

I think all the things that I said earlier, just that knowledge that they’ve been able to immerse in an evening of pure entertainment, really. And if that gives them a rest from what the rest of the day offered, then that would be my hope. To ensure that they’ve enjoyed two and a half hours of some of the best entertainment that musicals can offer.

And finally, how would you describe Phantom of the Opera in one word?

Fantastic. With the PH, of course! [Laughs]

Of course! [Laughs]

Thank you to Earl for the insightful interview and to Emily Webb for arranging it!

Phantom of the Opera is currently running at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Tickets can be purchased here.


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