United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, Patience: National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company / David Steadman (conductor), Royal Hall, Harrogate, 15.8.2015 (RJW)
Colonel Calvery: Steven Page
The Duke: Nick Sales
The Major: Matthew Kellett
Reginald Bunthorne: Richard Gauntlett
Archibald Grosvenor: James Cleverton
Bunthorne’s Solicitor: Donald Maxwell
Lady Angela: Angela Simkin
Lady Ella: Elinor Moran
Lady Jane: Sylvia Clarke
Patience: Rebecca Bottone
Director: Donald Maxwell
Conductor: David Steadman
Choreographer: Karen Halliday
This is the second year the Festival has been held in Harrogate, having moved from Buxton where without sufficient sponsorship it was deemed uneconomic to run. The performers (and audiences) come from far and wide, perhaps the furthest being New York and Cape Town this year, which have attended to perform their latest productions for adjudication. Performers range from enthusiastic amateurs to a professional repertory company (carrying four operas), and provide immense variety in presentation whether traditional or modern. A number of university and youth productions regularly take to the boards of the Royal Hall and Harrogate Theatre: this year the Royal Hall auditorium has been respectfully enhanced with tiered stalls to help sight-lines and has been very successful.
Key to the content is the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company created by Ian, Janet & Neil Smith, which has four repertory productions that will tour the country from September onwards. They deserve recognition for their fresh faced productions, both in costumes and settings. They personally cope with enormous expense, in contrast to those less-deserving performing companies that regularly get handouts for their failures.
This year the supporting programme of lectures and talks, ranging from an academic to an entertaining footing, compound to ask the question why the establishment has not so far recognized all this –this is surely British heritage that deserves fairer recognition. Where is the Heritage Fund and charities that have existed as a result of Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte’s legacy? Thankfully, the younger generation has become aware of the existence of the Gilbert & Sullivan tradition through festivals and I made a point of talking to some 13-17 year old performing teenagers who had provided an outstanding production of The Pirates of Penzance with orchestra. They said they had enjoyed the experience of knowing the catchy melodies that are fun to sing. This begs the question where is the support offered by the BBC to recognize the quality of Sullivan and other melodious 19th century composers? Why does it have to take Prince Charles to remind us that the composer, Parry, exists? Where are Sterndale Bennett, Benedict, Macfarren, Balfe and Wallace? The Arts Council needs to become more balanced and outward-looking to fairly support what has become a minority interest only because the establishment is obsessed with promoting self-gratification.
When the curtain rose for Patience on a delightfully tranquil setting of Bunthorne’s castle grounds a girls’ entrance with non-pre-Raphaelite colours and a more rompy, than sedate demeanor took us by surprise and we knew we were in for something different from Gilbert’s prescribed setting. Their bustling energy possibly detracted from them being lovesick, however. The extra spring in their step lifted the usual sombre ambience, yet they needed to be careful not to draw too much attention to themselves with any over-the-top activity. Lady Angela and Lady Ella were excellent in their roles.
Bunthorne, is always a difficult character to portray from the dialogue Gilbert gives him, with bombastic cruelty towards Lady Jane, but I fund the loud flamboyancy in Act I somewhat misplaced, only because lines when shouted interfered with clarity of delivery: I much preferred the portrayal provided in Act II. Bunthorne’s solo, “If you’re anxious for to shine” was excellent and the activity during the raffle scene was well managed by director, Donald Maxwell. A Hitchcockian cameo appearance by the director as Bunthorne’s money-focused Solicitor was amusing and made more of the situation than we usually get. Grosvenor, both in singing and acting was enjoyable, his narcissus quality of mirror-gazing bringing out to the full his dialogue exchanges with Patience. Patience appeared in a costume replicating Gilbert’s original style and carried off her part, with believable wide-eyed innocence, to perfection. Her ‘tripe and chips’ northern image of a simple-minded lass was brilliant, a portrayal I remember being equally well achieved by Sandra Dugdale: Rebecca Bottone has a loving sincerity to her singing and the duet with Grosvenor was tenderly sung by them both. The pace throughout was good.
Act I was lifted by the excellently choreographed Dragoons and a convincing Colonel Calvery who commanded with strength: the delivery of “If you want a receipt” was excellent. Gilbert assigns only small roles to the Duke and Major but they made the most of their parts, especially in the Act II numbers, “It’s clear that medieval art” and “If Saphir I choose to marry”. The Duke and Patience have to be singled out for their contribution to the Act I finale with their powerful top ‘A’ held over four bars, which enhanced the thrill and power of Sullivan’s magnificent double chorus. Lady Jane was a determined and perfect foil for Bunthorne; her “Silver’d is the raven hair” being much admired.
The Festival orchestra was not only on form in David Steadman’s hands, but he had enlisted five extra players to embellish the richness of the score. This was a new edition from Sullivan’s autograph by Andrew Griffiths, though it is not clear where differences occur. Paul Lazell’s picturesque settings for both Acts were elegant, especially the ivy-clad walling, that for me gave a nod to Goffin’s portrayal in the fifties. A word should be said about the magnificent of the chorus girls’ costume change for a brief final ten minutes of the show. Their maroon-trimmed dresses with matching ribboned boaters were striking and a credit to designer, Tony Brett
Raymond J Walker