I've seen a few Ruddigores over the years... and this one, I have to say, is not normal; it really is quite a different beast. Performed by a company following in the best traditions of Thespis (take it easy and try experiments!), we saw tonight a transformed and transported Ruddigore. As Cheshire reminded Alice on her approach to the Hatter's domain, change denotes neither good nor bad, but merely "not the same". Derby's concept of Ruddigore involves a cast of animals and birds, of a variety of races and classes, and a small number of changed words.
Concept productions can be made to work brilliantly, or can flop terribly and leave the audience face-palming the whole evening. This did neither. I can't truly say that it was executed spectacularly, but it did have its moments. The script already mentions a few animals, and a few lines were tweaked slightly to take advantage of the tails-and-ears theme, but there were a number of missed opportunities and odd incongruities between the original and the concept. Most of them were not particularly serious, like wondering what a fox would be doing owning a dairy farm and corn and oil and such, while a few are downright curious - Mad Margaret, in the second act, appears to be wearing a cross between a layer-cake and a little mermaid's ball gown. What a squirrel wants with such a fancy costume I don't know, but it did look good on her when she twirled, which she made sure she did frequently. (Margaret and Despard also managed to squeeze in a highly topical reference to Harrogate, which drew considerable audience reaction, including applause.)
Everything was fairly unsurprising until the second act, with Robin/Ruthven (who was a fox, by the way; making him a robin would presumably have been too obvious) addressing an empty glade that represents his picture gallery. His ancestors stepped in from the wings during a black-out, and then remained in near-total darkness with ultraviolet footlights. Part way into the ghost scene, the chorus reveal one-sided blacklight-sensitive figures they're carrying, giving a pleasing effect of animal shapes that can appear and disappear at will (the choristers simply rotate the image to face it upstage, and we the audience see it vanish). Not everyone will appreciate the change, no doubt, but personally, I found it technologically cool, and that's surely worth something! (We'll ignore for the moment the way the effect was briefly spoiled by an accident by someone. These things do happen, and to spare someone (who's already feeling mortified enough, I'm sure), I'll refrain from detail.)
Not all concepts work. But not all concepts "bomb" either. I can't honestly say that this was a major improvement over the original, but it held itself together moderately well, and disbelief wasn't stretched beyond all reason.