Those of us who helped out last night got a privileged chance to see part of the set for tonight's professional Ruddigore, which was something elaborate. Ian Smith waffled at length in front of the curtain - listeners will note the cunning way in which the Goons fill in time on their programme - until someone signalled him that all was prepared and the gallant set awaited.
And the set, when we saw it, was indeed worth the delay. Dual-purpose structures were village houses until the finale, when panels in them opened out to make trees. The entire tone of the stage changed completely. (Owing to the complexity of them and the shortness of time, there were a few small issues with holding them open/closed, but this I am sure will be solved for tomorrow's performances.) The second act set, too, had two modes; rotating the flats changed them from portraits to empty frames.
Our first clue that this was not using the most usual score came in the overture, which was not the well-known Toye one but the original. We were subsequently treated to a number of pieces that were cut on, shortly after, or even before, the original opening night; various odd lines of dialogue, Sir Ruthven's second-act song "For thirty-five years", the second verses of "I once was as meek" and "In bygone days", and - something I've never seen performed on stage - the dialogue between Despard and Margaret in the first act, and one verse of the song about Mad Margaret's curse, which was spoken rather than sung for the simple reason that Sullivan never actually wrote music for it.
The curtain rose on Rose Maynard, err I mean Maybud, alone in the center of the stage. An energetic company of bridesmaids entered and encircled her in sweet voice, alas with something of a lack of altos; all of them were attentive and observant, qualities that greatly enhance a performance. Ensemble work throughout the evening was precise and crisp, highly commendably so.
Tonight's show can boast a large number of small "wins" - those little moments when something happened that was just so very right. None is necessarily noteworthy on its own, but together they make a good show into an excellent one. Such moments in this Ruddigore include Rose singing about her heart directing her left and then right, when the men were on the wrong sides of her - she gave a small hand-wave of acknowledgement; again from Rose, when Margaret refers to "Rose Maybud" and then says "I love him" - Rose looked up in some surprise; Gideon Crawle entering during the applause, and claiming it as his own; and several more besides. And there were some moments that definitely merit mentioning - crowning moments of awesome such as the beginning of the first act finale, with two completely different places created by a skilful lighting state. Actually, the lighting was superb the whole time; from the reds of Dame Hannah's legend to the monochrome appearance of the ghosts' scene (with Ruthven the only patch of color on the stage) to the moonlit second act, everything was well served by its lighting states.
Those who know me will know that I take particular note of Mad Margaret. I've seen quite a few, and she's fairly important to me. Victoria Byron played the part, somewhat noisily at times, but fairly believably. Her diction gave me no cause to complain, which is especially important with all the unusual material that was performed. A lovely Meg, and one that I would not be sorry to see again! And quite a dangerous mad girl, too; Rose Maybud (Charlotte Page) seemed quite scared of her, although oddly enough, this didn't cause her to put distance between them. I would have thought that, when faced with someone who talks casually of killing people and rending them asunder, any sane girl would back away just a little. Unless you have particular interest in insanity, you probably don't want to hang around with Meg... But on the other hand, Rose could show you the exact place in her book where it says that she is not to walk away while someone is talking to you. Rose's honorary aunt Hannah Trusty (Jill Pert) knows all about The Book, having probably had parts of it read out to her every day for the past decade; if one of the Murgatroyds had had to take care of Rose, I daresay one of his earliest crimes would have been to toss that book on the stove. But Hannah is too sweet and gentle to do that... sweet, gentle, and not half bad with a short blade, as Robin/Ruthven (Richard Gauntlett - did it cause confusion in rehearsal?) finds out. Robin's not a bad fellow, though, once you get past the fact that he, well, outright lied to a girl to entice her into wedlock, and yellowly ran out so that his younger brother had to take the curse, and a few things like that. But apart from all those crimes, he's a decent fella, and it's quite a dramatic change when he - right in front of our eyes, though with his back to us - is "turned evil" at the end of the first act. His devoted servant Adam (Simon Masterton-Smith), following him into crime and ending up ahead, seemed to enjoy applause rather a lot; on several occasions, he entered during the applause from the previous song, and claimed the applause for his own - highly amusing. In the first act, where he asks to honestly identify his master, we learn what poor weather he is used to; on the pronouncement of the name, a thunderclap erupts (as happened every time anyone named a Murgatroyd), and as soon as it was over, he declared that it was like eight hours at the seaside! Of course, such adverse weather would be all in a day's work for Dick Dauntless (Oliver White), busily running away from French combat ships while practicing his hornpipe; incidentally, it's the talk not only of the fleet but of his home village, too, and he manages to get the bridesmaids involved when he demonstrates it. In contrast to his despicable goodness, we have Sir Despard (Philip Cox), honestly evil and consciously atoning for it - although his beloved Margaret doesn't believe the atonement is sufficient. (Despard's not truly evil, though; as we learn in the second act, the crimes were really Ruthven's, performed by proxy.) The contrast between the evilness of Despard or Ruthven and the purity of (say) Dick Dauntless gave the follow spot operators some fun; at several points, two spots were used, in different colors. Of course, we don't see the ultimate evil (the original witch of the curse), and most of the ghosts were doddering old rheumatic things, so most of the demonstrated power of evil comes from Sir Roderic (Donald Maxwell). He led the ghosts for the simple reason that he had enough energy to actually do things. But when it came time to deliver some agonies, all the ghosts helped out; the effect, with lighting and sound and everybody's movement, must be seen to be appreciated.
In fact, that probably sums up the entire show. I can set some words down about what I thought of this, that, or the other, but ultimately, you have to see it to understand. This performance thrilled me enough that I went straight down to the foyer after the show with the intention of buying a ticket to the matinee. That is how I feel about this Ruddigore.