A Memorable River Dance Hornpipe

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan Festival – Ruddigore: Birmingham University G&S Society / Elliot Mercer (conductor), Royal Hall, Harrogate, Yorkshire 9.8.2019. (RJW)

Act II Finale “Having been a wicked Baronet” © Jane Stokes

Director/Choreographer – Lydia Skrentny
Musical Director – Elliot Mercer

Robin Oakapple – Robert Russo
Richard Dauntless –  Altus Chan
Sir Despard Murgatroyd – James David
Sir Roderic Murgatroyd – Sam Saunders
Old Adam Goodheart – Eoin Funnell
Rose Maybud – Katharine Chatterton
Mad Margaret – Hattie Pinches
Dame Hannah – Molly Matthews
Zorah – Hazel Watson
Ruth – Marion Bird

The well-rehearsed group from Birmingham demonstrated they could have fun in mounting a production, which is all the more surprising when they must have been up at the crack of dawn to travel the 140-mile journey from Selly Oak to Harrogate with costumes and properties before being able to snatch a couple of hours of acquaintance with the theatre, the festival and support staff.

It was good to see that this society knows its G&S well, for the production had reinstated Richard & Rose’s ‘The Battle’s roar is over’, the original Act II finale and additional chorus lines for Dame Hannah’s Legend. The singing was impactful and tuneful, all the more surprising when the soloists occasionally found their support of the melody line was missing from the orchestra (the strings having been replaced by a keyboard). Where a soloist left an extra bar of accompaniment before starting a verse the musicians, probably unfamiliar with the music, hadn’t noticed and were a bar out of step, but they caught up so this did not mar the performance. The playing could have benefited from attenuation in the brass and bassoon sections, I felt. Throughout the opera there was scope for more impactful lighting though this might have been difficult to set in the shortness of available time.

The show was held together by performances by Rose and Richard (Katharine Chatterton and Altus Chan) who gave us believable characters and were strong singers; their ‘The Battle’s roar is over’ was a delight. Good support came from yokel farmer Robin (Robert Russo), though the characterisation adopted was somewhat heavy for a ‘coy’ youth. His approach in Act II seemed more in line and better when not wearing his ‘Water Rats’ hat. Molly Matthews made a formidable and matronly Dame Hannah while Sir Roderic (Sam Saunders) contributed with clear dialogue and sang ‘When the night wind howls’ with gusto. An accolade for the best characterisation has to go to Hattie Pinches as Mad Margaret who held the well-filled house in her grasp with wide, eccentric eyes and clearly ready to tear everyone asunder.

Lydia Skrentny’s choreography and chorus groupings worked well and I especially liked the lively contribution by henchman, Adam (with Robin joining in) of a ‘River Dance’ routine that was superbly executed. To introduce such a replacement for the hornpipe may seem odd, but the effect worked because the Adam of Gilbert’s book does not have to be Old to deliver his part as servant to Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd (Robin).

Raymond J Walker

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