W.A. Gilbert and Sullivan Society
reviewed by Neville Cohn
When copyright on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy operas expired some decades ago, it was open slather. In the years immediately following this, there was a free for all with any number of productions around the world mounted with scant respect for the originals; many of these were tasteless or abominable – or both.
Happily, these dreadful efforts are fairly rare nowadays. Certainly, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of W.A.’s latest production – Patience – with Ted Bull as director, gives a novel take on an old work but with such a light touch that even though the setting is utterly different to that conceived by G & S, I would be greatly surprised if it offended anyone other than the diehard purist. Certainly, Gilbert’s pretension-puncturing barbs are as sharp as ever.
Unexpectedly, we find the dramatis personae in the front foyer of a cinema! But although the program booklet states that the action is placed in the thirties, the movie screened (an hilariously ludicrous melodrama in the manner of Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik) while the orchestra plays the overture is definitely of the silent era, which came to an end in the late 1920s. Moreover, the Rapturous Maidens are costumed, for the most part beautifully, in dresses (designed by Ann Murray) that seem very much of the twenties, too.
As a rule, critical comment on the accompanying orchestra is relegated to the closing lines of a review. But it would be ungracious not to give special prominence to the sterling efforts of conductor Simon Lawford and a small instrumental ensemble in the pit. They did wonders with Sullivan’s score. Tempi were almost invariably sensible and practical. And there was about the playing not a hint of familiarity breeding indifference. On the contrary, conductor and orchestra alike performed with a commitment not always evident in some fulltime professional ensembles.
While it may be heresy to suggest this, there seems a good case for surtitles to be used, even though sung in English, because if ever there’s a genre where clear enunciation of the libretto is central to audience enjoyment, it is the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. And while most of the players pronounced their words in a way that was clearly understandable, there were instances where it was difficult and at times almost impossible to make out precisely what was being sung.
As Reginald Bunthorne, that most pretentious of psuedo-aesthetes, Alan Needham could barely be faulted as a man with a boundless superiority complex, swanning around the stage as if he were heaven’s gift to humanity. His diction was excellent. And as Archibald Grosvenor, Patience’s first love, Courtenay Greig was clad in pristine white and with a blonde hairdo that made him look like the archetypal gilded youth.
Monique Beaudoire played Lady Jane as world weary and dressed in a way that would have won the approval of George Sand who also favoured wearing male evening gear. Her voice had a pleasing smoky quality, most notably in the aria sung just moments into Act 2. And David Packer, David Cosgrove and Roger Starbuck as senior members of the Dragoon Guards seemed positively to revel in their roles.
Maureen Collett and Claire Holdsworth as cinema usherettes were a delight, their deadpan playing of the cymbals towards the close of Act 1 an hilarious moment, one of any number of Ted Bull’s directorial touches that made this Patience as engaging to watch as to hear.
Yeoman of the Guard is the G & S Society of W.A.’s next production in September.