BWW Reviews: G&S FEST: RUDDIGORE Humorously Warns Against Burning Witches

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Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Friday 24th April 2015

Honestly Adelaide where were you? I know it was wet and cold but, unless you were having an early night to prepare for the ANZAC Day dawn service, you should have been in the Arts Theatre for this tight little, right little production of G&S Fest: Ruddigore.

I know it's not one of the big three, but it's very tuneful, has the best patter trio in existence in the second act, several Shakespearean overtones, and a really lovely cast. The theatre was barely half full.

Once upon a time the then holder of the Murgatroyd baronetcy was cursed by a witch. He was burning her at the time. If he did not commit a serious crime every day he would die in screaming agony. When Ruthven inherited the title, he faked his death and ran away to the village of Ruddigore where he assumed the name of Robin Oakapple, a farmer, and fell tongue-tied in love with Rose Maybud. The title fell to his brother Despard, a true bad baronet, but whose conscience is salved by extravagant reparation for his daily crime. Despard has also broken the heart of Mad Margaret and intends to kidnap Rose. Enter Dick Dauntless, back from sea after ten years, the only man other than the elderly manservant, Adam (Shakespearean reference), to know Robin's true identity, which he spills to Despard because he is in love with Rose himself. Throw in the customary older woman, the band of professional bridesmaids desperate for employment, and a chorus of ghosts, and there you are in Rudddigore.

The G and S society can draw on immense reserves of talent for a show like this. David Lampard as Robin, is a highly successful director and designer whose early skills were nurtured by the Society. Andrew Crispe, Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore is Despard. John Turner, as Adam the old servant and Barbara Turner as the elderly Dame Hannah have given years to Gilbert and Sullivan. There's also room for new blood. Alexandra Gard has a bright and lustrous soprano as well asa gift for light comedy, and one of the young talents to keep an eye on in Adelaide is Emily Ravenscroft whose engaging mezzo soprano sound is a real treasure. Add John Greene as ghostly (Shakespearean reference) Sir Roderic Murgatroyd whose resurrection reverses the curse and you have a very strong cast indeed.

Kate Price and Alexandra Wiedenmann are the bridesmaids, Zorah and Ruth and Nicholas Munday and Anthony Little are the local yokels who really show up well in the hornpipe.

It's the two debutants who make this show even more interesting. The role of Dick dauntless is taken by David Barnard, musical director and coach for State Opera of South Australia. He possesses a very useful light tenor voice and he can dance, the hornpipe choreographed by Celeste Barone is a hoot. His character accent does tend to slide across most of the Home Counties, but his natural good nature is a real fit for the role. Mark Sandon, another of the city's best accompanists, takes up the baton as musical director for the first time. His beat is clear and his tempi in general very effective.

Richard Trevaskis directs with the skill and perspicacity of someone for whom the G and S society has been home for decades. As he notes in the program, his first ever G and S role was as Robin Oakapple, with his brother Peter as Despard. He has found an imaginative solution to the need for a picture gallery in the second act by using just one large frame and uses the limited space for the action very capably. He's also playing King Gama in Princess Ida.

On the opening night there were hints of under rehearsal and a lack of familiarity with the text. Lampard dried spectacularly, but Gard and Barnard got him through it with immense energy and humour, which are the hallmarks of the show. You also get the duet where Despard and Margaret, now entirely reformed characters sing of their new lives and their blameless dances, which is followed by the patter trio from heaven, when Despard and Margaret try to reform Ruthven, while admitting that this particularly rapid unintelligible patter isn't generally heard and, if it is, it doesn't matter.

It really does deserve a bigger and livelier audience. And while the semi-staged structure places most of the chorus at the back of the stage, you get to see a lot more of the orchestra, while the string tone is a little etiolated, the wood wind, especially the flute, come up trumps, and you can see the percussionist.



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