I will be upfront with you - I am a bit of a Lord of the Rings nerd.

So when an email flew into my inbox one afternoon with the words 'Bilbo's birthday bash' and 'Lord of the Rings The Musical' I could hardly contain my excitement.

I trotted off to the Watermill Theatre, just outside of Newbury, for the musical's press night on August 1.

For those unfamiliar with the venue, it is a beautiful Grade II listed building with a working watermill on the edge of the River Lambourne surrounded in countryside in the charming village of Bangor. If Hobbits were ever to venture into theatre, this would surely be where they'd start. 

The evening's theatrics begins unusually outside in the theatre's gardens where, as guests, we form part of Bilbo's birthday party.

Sat on benches and tables in front of a stage, you are immediately submerged in the throws of a jolly knees up, watching on as Hobbits merrily dance and sing around the audience, sweeping you up in a cheerful, celebratory atmosphere. 

But the atmosphere changes as Bilbo suddenly disappears from the party with silence befalling his guests. Quickly, all 200 or so guests are ushered inside the theatre for the next stage of the performance where the story picks up with Gandalf and Frodo discovering that infamous ring that goes on to cause so much trouble. 

Now the Lord of the Rings is famously a trilogy of three very long films - and they just about got away with that two decades ago, before our collective attention spans were shot to pieces by the likes of TikTok and Instagram Reels.

But how would such a long-winded tale fare in 2023? Would even I, a LOTR superfan, be able to sustain three-and-a-half-hours away from my phone to focus on theatre? 

Having seen those Peter Jackson movies more time than I care to publicly admit, I worried whether it would be difficult to connect to the actors and music which would obviously be very different. 

But I needn't have worried. The musical was attention-grabbing from the start while the cast gave totally made this adaptation their own.

Stage actor Peter Marinker, whose credits include Love Actually, His Dark Materials and Labyrinth, steals the show as Gandalf with a commanding, authorative presence.

While opera singer Aoife O’Dea brought Arwen's role to life, and added new dimension to the 2d version we saw in the film. And Gollum is brilliantly just how you would expect Gollum to be, and was the one character most obviously aligned to the film's depiction.

Something which this production has over the films is a sense of intimacy which comes from theatre and having that close proximity to the story - particularly in a space like the Watermill. The puppetry adds to this magic, with the Ents brought to life and terrifyingly - the epic spider that ensnares Frodo. 

Without giving too much away, as proceedings head towards the end, the audience are led back outside where the Hobbits return to the shire and dancing and singing commences to a beautiful finale bathed in moonlight. 

This musical passed the test for me - a perfect pastiche of a much-loved classic. I urge everyone - Lord of the Rings fan or not - to go and watch this incredible production. Something of this quality and calibre belongs on the West End, so enjoy it while it's on your doorstep. 

  • Lord of the Rings Musical is running at The Watermill Theatre until October 15. Visit watermill.org.uk for more information or call the box office on  01635 46044.