Despite having lovely music and plenty of comedic material, Patience tends not to sell as well as some of the other G&S operas. Even here in Buxton, other shows sell out or are fairly tight, but tonight's Patience had quite a few empty seats in the upper stalls, and the two ushers added fully 50% to the gallery's population.
(Parenthesis: Neil Smith is an excellent wordsmith. I'll say no more.)
If you want a receipt for the mysteriously less-than-popular Patience, take all the remarkable hams in history, have them rattle off some Sullivan tunes. Or something like that. Everyone - dragoons, aesthetes, and Patience - contended for the title of Biggest Ham, although Patience (Charlotte Wattebot O'Brien - I hope I have that spelled correctly) pulled back for the "Iolanthe moment" of Love Is A Plaintive Song and let that number be itself. But for the rest of the show, she was the peanut gallery to Bunthorne's drama-queen performances, snarking and chewing a piece of straw. It didn't seem to bother Bunthorne (Paul Tarrant) though; when your ego is that large, you don't mind what sort of attention you get, as long as you get attention. His sense of comedic timing was excellent, and much appreciated. Had it not been quite firmly refused, we would have demanded he encore "When I go out of door" as well as "So go to him". The Lady Jane (Anthea Kenna) walked all over him, even literally at the end (just before he moans "Crushed again!"), so I think he did better with his tulip or lil-eye actually! She entered at the beginning of the second act with a tuba, which she played (for real, I think), although for her song she switched to the traditional cello and the traditional clueless sawing with the bow. Ladies Angela (Jenny Haxell), Saphir (Jackie Mitchell), and Ella (Claire Poth), particularly notably in the Off Note, have lovely voices and clear diction. Leading the maidens from within, they set the tone of the entire show in the opening number, and were highly important in keeping the plot moving along. Their "opposite numbers", the Dragoon Guards, were crisp and smart as military officers should be, although there were a few places where movements were a little ragged. Led by the Colonel (David Philips), whose diction improved markedly when he removed his helmet, the Dragoons were a vibrant splash of colour against the soft and wimpy pastels that the girls were wearing; normally, the guys are the epitome of precision, against the languor of the girls, but tonight, the Aesthetic Maidens were every bit as precise and synchronized as the soldiers. The Colonel's song had new words written for it (by ex-ButAGirl, Sharon Cutworth), which included a lot of local references that were lost on me, but clearly appreciated by most of the audience. Major Murgatroyd (Robert Barker) had a screaming parade-ground voice, but also a crystal clear singing voice for such moments as the Off Note, and the Duke (Mick Wilson) demonstrated superb diction and comedic delivery. Grosvenor (Adam Sullivan), wearing something like Lincoln Green, tried to just walk up to a girl and say "Hey, remember me? We were kids together. Will you marry me?" like the Disney animated Robin Hood. It just doesn't work that way... but we got some fun scenes before they realised that.
Ensemble work was at a consistently high standard of energy, observation, and utter hammishness. The men were a little sloppy on some of their salutes and such in their entrance number, but very minorly and it was tightened up by the first act finale. The women were particularly notable in the Magnet and the Churn, in which the movements were precise and well timed, producing a snappy on-the-beat marked set of actions.
This was a production done by people who loved what they were doing. This was, over and above all else, a FUN show.