United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan: Ruddigore: Buxton Festival Youth Production / Rozamond Savourmin (Conductor), Buxton G&S Festival, The Pavilion Theatre, Buxton, 4.8.12. (RJW)
Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd (Robin Oakapple): Alan Rowland
Richard Dauntless: Digory Price
Sir Despard Murgatroyd: Henry Smith
Old Adam: Nathaniel Forsyth
Rose Maybud: Tessa Kadler
Mad Margaret: Fern Strawson
Dame Hannah: Hannah Carter
Sir Roderic Murgatroyd: Matthew Siveter
Zorah: Katharine Wood
Ruth: Lissy Fothergill
Sir Despard’s steward: Patrick Swain
Director: John Savournin
Conductor: Rozamond Savournin
This family team has done a great job of creating another excellent youth production after last year’s brilliant HMS Pinafore production with a similar cast. [Reviewed here]
It is always a delight to find that today’s youth can deliver the subtleties of Gilbert & Sullivan with such maturity as we witnessed in Buxton, and with minimal adult help that they can mount such a strong production for public consumption. There has been a youth element for well over a decade at this Festival and in recent year’s the organisers have seriously promoted fully-staged and fully-dressed productions with a small orchestra of gifted teenagers. All are to be congratulated for once again providing a ‘line-perfect’ production of quality and with such magnificent singing. I would suggest that these confident performers acquired their motivation from the popularity of TV’s X-Factor which has done a lot to promote singing as a respected teenage trend were it not for the fact that these Buxton productions started when no X-Factor existed.
This production by John Savournin contains a lot of nicely worked out detail, both in character identity and stage movement. Nobody stood around not knowing what to do with their hands or moves. Ros Savournin has clearly trained the singing to a remarkable degree and put trust in an orchestra of teenagers to support the singers. The brass severely swamped the woodwind and voices at times but without more time for one brief rehearsal in the theatre (which was acoustically poor) this can be excused.
The opening with a myriad of well-dressed bridesmaids filling the stage both with colour and voice enhanced the audience’s attention. Zorah, sadly a small part, (Katharine Wood) sang superbly and clearly throughout and led the chorus well. Dame Hannah (Hannah Carter) confidently delivered her important Legend of Ruddigore and played her Act II fight scene with strong conviction. Rose & Robin (Tessa Kadler & Alan Rowland) gave a good rendering of their “I know a youth” and their acting throughout the Acts was superb. Alan radiated a strong presence later in Act during his encounter with his half-brother, Richard. In fact, Robin, Sir Despard (Henry Smith), Richard (Digory Price) and Rose (Tessa Kadler) did much to carry the show and maintain momenyum. Sir Despard used the stage well and was tactful in handling his new excitable wife, Mad Margaret (Fern Strawson), who got nicely into her role, providing the swing of mood demanded. Tattooed Richard was suitably flamboyant, portraying this sea-faring rogue with much charm.
I mention these characters individually but their support by the whole of the company was memorable. So was a lovely and realistic backcloth for Act I and the additional interest brought by an effective use of purple, blues and turquoise lighting for the ghosts’ “Painted emblems” in Act II. Sir Roderic (Matthew Siveter) delivered a forceful and dynamic “Ghosts high noon” and commanded a strong and sinister presence over the scheming Sir Ruthven (Alan Rowland).
No prompter seemed to be present, unlike in a lot of adult productions, so ‘bravo’ for having the confidence to perform unaided. Ruddigore was an unusual choice, but when I asked a few of the cast they were very happy with the choice of production, only a difficult 3 beats to a bar for “Oh, Happy the lily” was found difficult to fit all the words in. Interestingly, Sullivan probably knowing such a difficulty had originally set the piece to an easier four to the bar so this criticism is fully justified. This project needs to be supported and can continue to be a highlight in future years.
Raymond J Walker