Mar 22 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Precise

King’s Theatre: Tue 21 – Sat 25 March 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Musically rigorous and staged with clarity, there is a definition to EDGAS’s Ruddygore that compensates for a certain lack of sparkle.

This is not the best-known Savoy Opera, and (perhaps unfairly) was deemed a flop on first production, coming after the all-conquering Mikado. It tells of young farmer Robin Oakapple, who plans to wed sweet Rose Maybud – but is in reality Ruthven Murgatroyd, one of a family of ‘bad baronets’ who live under a witch’s curse, and must commit a crime daily or suffer death by torture.

Professional bridesmaids. Photo Ross Main

Yes, the title is slightly different from usual – it is the original spelling, soon abandoned, but revived here along with other elements cut or changed over the years. Whether these restorations benefit the piece is up for debate, but they are proof of a seriousness of intent, and of a careful and intelligent approach.

There is a definite delicacy and precision to the music; MD David Lyle and a large orchestra are always beautifully balanced with the singers, and in the duets and trios the individual voices and lyrics are easy to make out.

Indeed, it can be a little too delicate at times; the reverential approach involved in resuscitating the original is carried over into other aspects of the production, with the result that it can be a little staid and lacking in genuine pizzazz.

One of the problems is that one of the main targets of Ruddygore’s satire – the excesses of Victorian stage melodrama – is not something most of us have first-hand experience of. Exaggerated and affected performances seem less like parody, and more like bad acting. Characters, meanwhile, seem to change from good to evil at the drop of a hat, and transfer their affections on a whim. It may be a favourite of Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados, but it is not really one for the neophyte, especially at such length.

particularly striking

That said, there is a great deal for anyone to enjoy. Ian Lawson may be a shade older than an average juvenile lead, but his Robin Oakapple is a wonderfully achieved comic performance – physically adept, and able to handle the most complicated patter song with ease. His performance of For thirty-five years I’ve been sober and wary, with its rewritten lines about contemporary politics, is particularly striking, emphasising the lack of bite elsewhere.

The chorus – “strong throughout”. Photo Ross Main

Simon G. Boothroyd, as the erstwhile bad baronet Sir Despard, is also both tuneful and humorous. He has notable duets with Fiona Main (whose expansive Mad Margaret is scarier as a Basingstoke-bound pillar of the community than as a wild-haired vagabond) and Chris Cotter’s handsomely oily and nimble jack tar Richard Dauntless.

Gillian Robertson’s Rose Maybud has a real stage presence and a strong voice, even if she seems altogether too assertive to convince as even a spoof of a winsome, helpless melodramatic heroine.

Farlane Whitty’s ghostly Sir Roderic leads the parade of dead ancestors effectively in When the night wind howls, skilfully juggling the playful and the spooky. Annabel Hamid gives the part of Dame Hannah a ludicrous and rather touching dignity.

Andrew Crawford, as the servant Old Adam, has a stone-faced, staid appearance that only just conceals a lurking madness. Rebecca Campbell and Erika Ishimaru ably lead the professional bridesmaids, whose eagerness to serenade any potential couple is one of the production’s highlights.

The chorus are particularly strong throughout, with the opening and closing numbers of the first act being compelling showcases for them and for Alan Borthwick’s sure-footed direction.

Technically, this is very strong, with particularly impressive sets. The potentially difficult business of the portraits coming to life is handled with aplomb – albeit with the aid of a lighting effect that is decidedly on the glaring side of unsubtle. This is one of the few indelicate moments in a production that lacks genuine excitement but is beautifully put together.

Running time 2 hours 50 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 21– Saturday 25 March 2017
Evenings 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm.


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