Friday, 9 August 2013

University of Cambridge: Patience

If younger performers are the future of G&S, watching UniFest productions makes me psychic. I haven't seen many Paxton (sorry, Pavilion Arts Center) performances yet this Festival due to conflicts with rehearsals, but if those I've missed have been like those I've seen, the universities here are doing us all a great service.

The set was simple and HIGHLY versatile. Apart from a few smaller pieces that could equally be called props, everything was built out of fifteen simple cubes, which were rearranged into different formations and turned to expose different images on their faces. Their most important use was stone walls... stone walls and grass... their two most important uses were grass and stone walls, and Bunthorne's solicitor... Their four most important.... I'll come in again. Ahem. Amongst their uses were such diverse elements as the aforementioned, a cow for Patience to milk, a cello for Jane to play, and head-switching the Solicitor into a clergyman for the very end of the first act (not sure what that was about, and I didn't recognize him as a clergyman until a blog reader pointed it out to me).

With a stage the size of the PAC's, it's wise to not try to fit in twenty love-sick maidens and twenty paired-off dragoon guards. It's also not easy to fit an entire Sullivan orchestra in, and today we were listening to eleven musicians and nineteen cast. I know some are of the opinion that playing Sullivan's music on anything less than the orchestra he stipulated is sacrilege, but frankly, a chorus of forty and an orchestra to match would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the stage, and had no chance whatsoever at dressing-room space. So this wasn't comparable to a full Opera House rendition of Patience, but it sure was a good afternoon's entertainment.

I'm not normally a fan of business during the overture - it's most often crudely saying what needn't be said. In this instance, though, I think it was better than most; however, I'd have preferred to know earlier who it was that we were seeing. The first on were one man and one lady, and we made several false guesses (young Patience and young Grosvenor? current Patience and Bunthorne?) before realizing that this was one year prior to the show and we were seeing the affection of the dragoons for their not-yet-aesthetic maidens.

Since, in my other window, I've been playing around with elements from the show's composition song, I'll start there. The Colonel (Paddy Birbeck) had one of those horribly embarrassing moments with the blank mind, but recovered from it. The main thing to note about the little-list song is that the chorus movements were notably precise. That should be no surprise; dragoon guards ought very much to be drilled and perfect, with every one of them moving at precisely the right moment (with the possible exception of the Duke of Dunstable (Ed Green), who is allowed to be "wrong" for the sake of humour). No, what was more impressive was that the aesthetic maidens were every bit as precise. Guys, you have some challengers here! Don't let languid girls outdo military guys in militariness! (Though in this case, one of the dragoons WAS a girl, who'd slipped in among them for the tour of duty - and slipped out for the finale, to even up the numbers.) The trio (with the Major (Robert Brocklehurst) and the aforementioned) was introduced with the second verse of The Soldiers Of Our Queen, which was a clever transition but it jarred slightly at the change of key. The quintet with Angela (Joanna Harries) and Saphir (Livia King), though, was "well sung and well danced", if I may be permitted to be still thinking Yeomen. :) Making a somewhat non-sequitur jump now; the two poets (Bunthorne (John Barber) and Grosvenor (Benjamin Lewis)) maintained fun by-play between and across each other, with poor Patience (Emma Walton) stuck somewhat in the middle. The scene where Patience checks whether her Archibald still loves her was played somewhat like Romeo & Juliet, though I'm not sure which side of the wall was supposed to represent space inside a house. Finally - another non sequitur - Jane (Rosie Corner) played up the humour of her second-act solo, using the blocks to be first her dresser, and then turning them around for her cello, which she "played" with a regular-looking bow - from whereever she felt like being. Very interesting. I need to get myself an instrument like that.

Patience has a lot of beautiful music and funny jokes in it. Cambridge's students today reminded us of the truth of those statements.

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