Wednesday, 7 August 2013

WWOS: Ruddigore

Right from the start, we knew this wouldn't be strictly Gilbert's staging - the overture opened with an air raid siren. What we were given was Ruddigore meets Dad's Army, with the men's chorus in the first act all being in uniform. For those who know the original, all the characters could be recognized; even for folks like me, the overall effect was... well, effective.

Of course, a concept like this will have its detractors. Apparently some people decided that one act was more than enough, and quit out at interval. Their loss! Those of us who remained got to see a rather neat treatment of the ghosts as waxworks (foreshadowed in the first act too - all references to paintings were altered); a scrim provided their entrance, then snapped away to let them walk through. Of course that's single-use, and the ghosts were played by human actors, so they couldn't be left there all the rest of the act; so as soon as the living characters exited, the ghosts just casually went off for a pint!

There were a few issues, though, some of which could have been solved with another day or so of rehearsal. My biggest disappointment was the lack of follow spots. With the lighting states kept fairly dark for the songs, spots would have helped a lot; specials are fine as long as people stand still in them, but as soon as directors start telling people to move around the stage, specials become insufficient. But one can't have everything.

A strong cast tonight. I'll start with the most important character. Mad Margaret (Nadine Plater) - why, who were you expecting? - was so superb she had to get that extra entrance with Despard, the material cut prior to opening night. Both that and her dialogue with Rose were applauded (admittedly, I explicitly and deliberately started the applause when she left Despard, but a good few of the audience must have agreed with me), and deservedly so. I like the wedding-dress version of Meg; she's depicted in various ways in different productions, but the wedding dress is my personal favorite. The second-act duet with Despard (Kevin Gauntlett) maintained a high level of energy, and definitely did take a deal of training. Rather than being district visitors, they were leaders of the Scouts, clearly and obviously depicted, unless the audience knows as little of Scouting as I do. Despard's evilness was strongly established by means of red lighting, and for his first entrance he even fired off a round from his handgun to prove that he means business; he hadn't loaded the second chamber, though, and at the end of his song he gave us a simple "click" of failure. Naturally Sir Ruthven (Andy Moore) received at least some of this treatment once he took the mantle of evil upon himself, though this was less in evidence in the second act (it being set inside the castle). In his guise as Robin Oakapple, he was a bumbling fellow, almost - unable to talk to Rose, yet able to hand her a bunch of flowers to hold while he tied his shoe - while as an evil baronet he took command. Ghosts are demanding an accounting? Sure, I have a book right here where I list all my crimes. His dialogue with Rose (Melody Jane Faulkner), including the aforementioned flowers mix-up, was perhaps a little inaudible at times, but it carried itself. Rose subsequently went on to be a part of another two great slabs of dialogue; it's no surprise that the Rose/Margaret scene is noteworthy, but the Rose/Richard scene earlier, the whole back-and-forthing with the Book of Etiquette, was also delightfully performed. One can't talk about Rose, of course, without mentioning her aunt the Dame Hannah (Myra Warwick), who stole the scene by demanding silence from the orchestra pit (and getting it, too!). Her beloved Sir Roddy Doddy (Simon Judd), though the newest of the ghosts, is clearly the one who best knows when a wax army wants to nip off for a quick pint, plus he gets to lead them in cursing his own nephew. A nice fellow, I must say. Wonder whether he had an old retainer-now-servant, like Ruthven's Old Adam (John Moore) or - in the second act, after the reinstated second verse of the opening song - Gideon Crawle. Faithful even to planning and committing crimes, disapproving yet obedient, and carrying a good sense of comedic timing. And finally Richard Dauntless (Guy Plater), whose heart (having known him for ever so long) has the privilege of calling him by the shortened version "Dick", which Despard attributes to another line of reasoning. His dialog with Rose, fishing the two of them together for life, or until the next scene, went over very smoothly, and showcases the pacing that the entire performance demonstrated. Reactions are prompt, delivery is clear (mostly) and crisp. With a number of reinstatements of cut material (second verses of a couple of songs, the Margaret/Despard dialogue, and so on), pace is the more important - not that it's unimportant the rest of the time - to ensure we're not still in the opera house past midnight.

Since I'm here to review the show, not the whole evening, I won't go into detail about the cabaret that WWOS has just entertained us with. It is, however, the best cabaret so far this festival, and I think a strong contender for the best of subsequent ones as well. Hugely fun. Thank you, WWOS!

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