Animals Take to the Stage in Ruddigore

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, Ruddigore: Derby G&S Company / Andrew Nicklin (conductor and director), Buxton Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, Opera House, Buxton 30.7.2013 (RJW)

 "I know a youth..." Photo credit Charles Smith
“I know a youth…”
Photo credit Charles Smith



Andy McPhee … Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd
Philip Abbott … Richard Dauntless
Stephen Godward … Sir Despard Murgatroyd
Fu-Meng-Khaw … Adam Goodheart
Marian Porter … Rose Maybud
Jean Krzeminski Mad Margaret
Joan Self … Dame Hannah
Beth Bucknall … Zorah
Katherine Winfield … Ruth
Michael Tipler … Sir Roderick Murgatroyd

In this version of Ruddigore Gilbert and Sullivan meets Beatrix Potter since all characters are played as animals of the wood; the Murgatroyds as foxes, Rose as a deer and Sir Roderic as a badger. It took some time for me to work out that the bridesmaids were sheep (with the obligatory black sheep of the family in evidence), but once understood their following the chief bridesmaid brought a smile. This was a production to be either adored or hated. It was a bold experiment yet many will wonder about its purpose. I can see that for those tired of the same old stage routines and presentation this show would be enjoyed as a novelty, but if you did not know the Ruddigore plot you would be unlikely to work out what was happening.

As a show, the staging was highly appealing with its wooded glade, foliage, mossy green with apricot lighting, dressed with cute animals. And cute they were. Robin was played as a youthful and cute fox, dressed in the red tailed coat of a traditional huntsman (a touch of irony here). A catlike Richard was appropriate as was Dame Hannah as a wise old owl. The cast used appropriate animal mannerisms, as did most of the chorus. Robin held the stage with his charisma and Rose made much of her innocence and simplistic understanding of people. All principals were good singers and took to the spirit of the production. Roderic was a formidable uncle to Robin with his ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ growling that put him in command of the situation without raising his voice.

This all said there were places where Gilbert’s words did not fit the situation: Robin (a fox) shoots a fox, and how a cat (Richard) can be a sailor who dances a hornpipe is stretching imagination a bit too far. If presented as a one act ‘romp’ with simplification of plot this novelty might have been better enjoyed. The ghost scene had the framed portraits replaced by a U.V. lit scene where fluorescent animals floated around the stage. But although well achieved this lengthy scene gave a certain monotony. It would have been helpful to have had the ‘black light’ sources shielded and hidden from view, though the darkness on stage allowed the effect to work admirably.

Singing was especially strong in the trio, “In sailing o’er life’s ocean wide” and duet, “You understand”. The madrigal was magnificent under Andrew Nicklin’s direction. Differences were noticed in the reduced band parts used which I felt did not improve on Sullivan’s familiar score.

The care taken with the cast’s facial make-up was outstandingly professional. To have rabbits will two buck teeth painted below their mouths was very effective and the foxes and badger were equally memorable. Similar care was taken by wardrobe: good quality wigs, hats with ears, jackets with tails protruding and appropriate footwear were all convincing. Much effort was clearly put into the production by all concerned.

Raymond J Walker