Review – Patience

Mar 24 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Sparkling

The 35th Dragoons are simply not aesthetic enough for the love-lorn maidens in Eusog's production of Patience. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge

The 35th Dragoons are simply not aesthetic enough for the love-lorn maidens in Eusog’s production of Patience. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge

Pleasance Theatre
Tue 19 – Sat 23 March 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Splendidly silly and tilting along at a merry rate, the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s production of Patience at the Pleasance has everything necessary to make it sparkle.

This is a giddy little number that, while it might not be perfect in every way, picks up its motifs well and has plenty of gutsy performances and great ideas. Not to mention a superb Lady Jane in Roz Ford who makes up with talent what she lacks in girth.

Patience finds Gilbert satirising the aesthetic movement of the late Victorian era, the painters, and – coming in for his particular scorn – the poets who revelled in love-sick wistfulness and tormented reveries. Sullivan’s music is in easy accord, with bouncing rhythms and a generally light-hearted mood.

Directors Daniel Harris with Aidan Heald have set the whole piece in an abstract art gallery, dominated by pictures of the aesthetes who dominate the opera. It is an easy trick which gets rid of cumbersome castle settings and allows the company to concentrate on making the plot flow easily.

At its centre is the poet Reginald Bunthorne, played by Mark Hewitt with full narcissistic flamboyance. He has stolen the hearts of twenty maidens with his pretentious versifying and a Florentine fourteenth-century frenzy.

Where the maidens once loved the 35th Dragoon Guards, they are now infatuated with Bunthorne, doting on his every word and swearing never to look at another man until Bunthorne will choose one of their number.

Unfortunately for them – and the Dragoons who turn up expecting the one-time loves to marry them – Bunthorne himself dotes on the milkmaid Patience. And as the clear-voiced Georgie Malcolm makes it very clear in the role, not only has Patience never fallen in love, but she has no intention of doing so.

A properly topsy turvy affair
Cailean Morison as the Duke of Dunstable goes in search of his aesthetic side. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge Eusog Pleasance Edinburgh

Cailean Morison as the Duke of Dunstable goes in search of his aesthetic side. Photo © David Monteith-Hodge

All of which makes for a properly topsy turvy affair. It makes up for those references which were topical at the time of writing with plenty of sight gags and observations that bring a laugh even now.

If the actualities of the obsession with fashionable colours and styles by the maidens as they mock the Dragoons’ plain red and yellow are not immediately obvious, then the tenor of their remarks is. And when Cailean Morison as the rich but tedious Duke of Dunstable, Eric Geistfeld as Major Murgatroyd and Luka Bjelis as Colonel Calverley adorn themselves in flowers and leaves – more in the manner of a rather effete Dads Army than anything else – then the comedy transcends any era.

The company throw themselves into their performances. Both ensembles – the maidens and the dragoons – are excellent, although the maidens take it in terms of creating individual characters, following easily behind the named roles: Hartiet Braine (Lady Ella), Kate Pasola (Lady Saphir) and Ari L’Hefeder (Lady Angela).

Ethan Baird is excellent as Archibald Grosvenor, Patience’s childhood friend who she suddenly realises is the reason she has never fallen in love. His demeanour is spot on, as the epitome of perfection, even if his voice doesn’t quite match it.

But the whole piece is stolen by Roz Ford, deliciously (and deliberately) overacting in full plummy voice as the oldest, plainest and (according to the script) plumpest of the maidens. Ford in no way possesses these attributes, but still succeeds in making the comedy zing.

And when she appears in the second half opening number On Such Eyes as Maidens Cherish, accompanying herself on the cello, her whole performance adds several layers of comedy.

The whole production is underpinned by a small but well-formed band under the baton of Finlay Turnbull, who inhabit the front few rows of the Pleasance Theatre. Far from detracting, being able to see them throughout adds atmosphere to what is an excellent evening – and is quite in keeping with that minimalist setting.

Running time 2 hours 20 mins.
Run ends Saturday 23 March 2013.
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