Thursday, 22 August 2013

Alice around Buxton

A'many days ago, when we rehearsed at Palace[1]
As some of you may know, the town was seen by Alice.

And vice versa, too. Quite a number of people gave us those strange looks of "What in the world are you doing?", leading to a number of introductions ("This is Alice, she's visiting the town.") and, in some cases, further photographs. The best of the photos can be seen here:

[1] Actually, we rehearsed at the Dome, and only went to the Palace Hotel to help the pros with their costumes. But I needed the rhyme.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Travelog, part 6: MEL(mostly)->home

Asha happened to meet us at the airport for no reason. After exchanging greetings, we part once more and take Skybus back to that part of the world that doesn't run 24x7 and is therefore just waking up. Back in England I did a Jay Pea to get an estimated time to get home, and we were just seven minutes behind being actually able to follow it - that's equivalent to the Selesnya Sagittars aiming their bows using maps, and hitting you in the arm instead of the chest.

So we make our way out, get to Southern Crustacean, Flinner, and progressively closer to home. Oh there is so much waiting for us!

08:06AM local time. We're home! Hi Thea, hi Sikorsky, let's get Alice from her enforced restraint, woohoo!

Travelog terminates.

Travelog, part 5: DXB->MEL (mostly)

We're on an A380. Having never flown on one before, I am of course making random observations. Most notably, the airstairs - three of them. We're boarded very efficiently for the number of people here.

The Airshow channel boasts three cameras. Belly cam (looking down), nose cam (looking forward), and - not seen previously - tail cam (looking forward across the top of the plane, should give us a great view of anyone stepping outside for a quick cigarette).

Nice lady sitting in the window seat with us, name of Helen. Going on to Auckland.

We're estimated at distance to destination of 7365 miles (they still use the same sucky font that makes 3 and 5 look almost the same), and... uhh... 0h 16m to arrival. I know these craft are fast, but whoa, that's pretty impressive!

Can't get wifi from here - at least, not stably enough to connect.

Sounds like departure will be delayed a bit due to congestion - our path is delayed a bit.

Wifi on board promised!! Woot!

The safety video opens with a shot of the appropriate aircraft, and the exits are of course matched to reality (including the fact that this has two decks). Other than that, I don't think there are any differences.

06:23. Suspending prior to launch.

06:26. Or not. We lost our path, we're now estimating pushback in 40 mins as we're 15th in queue. But the captain still thinks we'll be landing roughly on time - there's a good bit built in, it seems.

07:01. Pushback!

18:05. I finally have internet! The onboard wifi is extremely slow, requires popups, and seems to be flat-out buggy, but I finally got myself online! This is being posted from 39,000 feet above the Great Australian Bite, the way I always will think of it.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Travelog, part 4: MAN->DXB

Chronological blogging in UTC. Starting out Monday, where we departed Buxton at roughly 16:45 after saying all our goodbyes and mistakenly leaving half of a rather nice garlic cheese behind. I hope someone finds it and enjoys it, it was a good cheese.

20:10. Still on the ground.

20:21. Pushback for a scheduled 20:00 flight.

20:36. Takeoff.

??:??. I don't know what timestamp to assign this, because I no longer have my dead-time watch. After I took everything off for the security checkpoint, I was pulled aside to have my boots separately checked (they fit, that's not the problem), and when I went to retrieve my things, there was only one watch. I'm fairly sure I would have noticed if I'd left another watch in there, and no watch was handed in to Lost Property, and I asked the officials to check carefully and they found nothing, so my conclusion is that some other pasenger nicked it out of the tray before I even saw it :(

03:08. Touchdown in Dubai.

04:04. Another hour to fully charge Traal's battery; external battery also charging; happily on wifi; you know, if I had a chair to sit on, I'd be sorted. Well, you can't have everything, and a better hand at turning in a blog post don't walk a deck. We have a good bit of time to sit around before the connecting flight, so we'll hang around here.

20th International G&S Festival Awards: Results

I just noticed that I never actually posted this to my blog. The text has been available in MPN, but that's not very discoverable, and will be garbage collected eventually (though quite probably not for months, maybe years), so here is the full text as was made available live during the awards ceremony.

* = winner, in categories that have nominations and winners.

Huge bouquet given to Valerie Masterson, who is presenting awards, and also bouquets to Sarah from the office in Halifax (not present), Kat(?) and Don (not present), and Sally Robinson.

Thank you to: Edna from Waterford for cooking to feed the staff (lunch for 20 people and high tea for 20-30 each day); David Hutchinson; and to our Australian friend, John Wellington.

Stephen Turnbull takes the floor for UniFest. "Interesting and challenging experience". "Standard of all shows consistently high". Only a few marks separate the first five placed societies. He praises the fun and joy of all shows. Not a single show lacked the true love that makes the audience enjoy the show. Every audience left smiling.

First Gilbert & Sullivan Hall of Fame: Awards for people who've made significant contribution to festival over years: Joan Preston; Paul Lazell (not present); Andrew Nicklin (not present); Valerie Masterson; Stephen Turnbull; James Newby; Pauline ???; Chris Faulkner and All Media Works; South Anglia Savoy Players and Derek(?) Collins

Youth Awards
Best Male Voice: Matthew Siveter - Pirate King
Best Female Voice: Virginia Kerr - Mabel
Best Character Actor: ?? - Robin Oakapple
Best Character Actress: Hebe James? - Mad Margaret
Best Male Performer: Henry Smith - Maj Gen
Best Female Performer: Phoebe Smith - Rose
Adjudicator's Award: Best Choreography: Fusion Belfast

Male Voice:
John Barber - Grosvenor - Cambridge
Ed Green - Duke -
* Laurie Slavin - Marco - St Andrews

Female Voice:
Elizabeth Barry - Lisa - Manchester
Emma Walton - Patience - Cambridge
* Victoria Mulley - Elsie - King's College

Ian's phone just rang.

Male Performer:
* Jono Miles - Ludwig - MUGSS
Rory Oliver - Roderic - Dauntless
Rory Oliver - Judge - Dauntless

Female Performer:
* Meinir Wyn Roberts - Julia - Manchester
Kayleigh Oliver - Mad Margaret - Dauntless
Tessa - St Andrews

Best Character Actress
Helena Culliney - Dame Hannah - Dauntless
* Jane - Cambridge

Best Character Actor
Don Alhambra - Birmingham
Shadbolt - KCL
* Sebastian Davidson - Despard - Dauntless

Best Chorus
* Grand Duke - MUGSS
Ruddigore - Dauntless
Gondoliers - St Andrews

Best Musical Director
* Dan Turek - MUGSS
Monica Buckland - Cambridge

Adjudicator's Award:
* Birmingham: Tessa and Gianetta - Catherine Newson, Bryony Burnham

Best Director
Joel Fisher - Grand Duke - MUGSS
* Davina Barron - Patience - Cambridge
Kayleigh Oliver - Ruddigore - Dauntless

1. Patience - Cambridge
2. MUGSS - Grand Duke
3. (not announced)

Main awards

Best Chorus
Sorc - South Anglia
Mik - Harrogate
* Yeo - Savoynet
Sorc - New London

Best Supporting Actor
* Michael Tipler - Sir Roderic - Derby
Alexis - South ANglia
Grosv - Grosvenor LOG

Best Supporting Actress
* Anthea Kenna - Partlet - South Anglia
Phoebe - Savoynet
Jane - Grosvenor

Best Male Performer
Adam Sullivan - Wells -
Adam Gaunt - Despard - WWOS
Point - Savoynet
* Stephen Godward - Lord Chancellor - Trent

Best Female Performer
Meg - Derby
* Nadine Plater - Meg - WWOS
Elsie - Savoynet

Best Traditional
Yeo - Oxbridge
Yeo - Savoynet
* Mikado - Harrogate

Animated Chorus?
* Rud - Derby
Rud - WWOS
Yeo - Savoynet

Best Male Voice
Fairfax - Oxbridge
* Laurie Slavin - Fairfax - Savoynet
Grosvenor - Grosvenor LOG

Best Female Voice
Prudence - Elsie - Oxbridge
Ida - Peak
Rose - WWOS
* Anne Slovin - Elsie - Savoynet

Best Character Actor
Daly - South Anglia
* Donald Stephenson - Mikado - Harrogate
Bunthorne - Grosvenor LOG

Best Character Actress
Angela Lowe - Blanche - Peak
* Julie May - Dame Han--Carruthers - Savoynet

Best Costumes
* Ruddigore - Derby
Sorcerer - South Anglia
Mikado - Harrogate

Best Duet
* Sing Hoity Toity - Peak
Welcome Joy - Sorc - South Anglia
Pat/Gros - Grosvenor LOG

Best Concerted Item
Madrigal - Rud - Derby
* When a Wooer - Yeo - S'net

Best Musical Director
Yeo - Oxbridge
Stephen - Sorc - South Anglia
Emily - Savoynet
* Graham Rogers - Sorc - NLOG

Best Director
Andrew Nicklin - Rud - Derby
Alistair Donkin - Mik - Harrogate
Rud - WWOS
* Deebee - Yeo - Savoynet

Adjudicator's Award
For "high comedy in act two"
Ruddigore - WWOS - Meg/Despard

1. Savoynet - Yeomen
2. WWOS - Ruddigore
3. Harrogate - Mikado

Thoughts from B17

For the better part of the Festival, I've been sitting in the gallery, seat B17. It's the only seat in the gallery that's perfectly centered, which puts me in the best possible position to give a balanced, bird's-eye view of the Festival. Or something like that. Maybe it's just an excuse to spout some rubbish that I scribbled down on my notes and thought funny at the time, interspersed with some funny lines from other Savoynetters.

Deebee decides against sitting with all of us (two Halls, Midga, and myself, with Alice accompanying me and Eeyore accompanying S-J H).
Me: You're going to avoid the table with Alice and Eeyore? Incredible!
Deebee: Oh, Eeyore's okay.

Later that day was overheard a reference to "the Alice and Eeyore drinking competition".

The Festival, at its best, is shows that are Precise, Energetic, Rehearsed thoroughly, Fastidious in detail, Enthusiastic and fun, Comedically timed, and Technically superb - lighting, pyro perhaps, and so on. At its worst are some failed concepts (usually an arguable point), and a couple of shows that would probably be fine in the provinces but are outshone here, where it appears that they sing the songs and trip the measures, but don't enjoy themselves.

Perhaps if the Festival were to withdraw from Buxton, and travel around Harrogate for a year, it might contrive to forget her?

Pooh-Bah: A man might try. After all, if a man can't cut off his OWN head, whose head CAN he cut off?

My hobby: Extrapolating. The Opera House received a shipment of 30 boxes of 24 icecreams, and I'm told deliveries are made twice a week. Across the duration of the Festival, that means that about ten thousand pounds will have been spent on icecreams by happy and hot theatregoers. You and I, Midga, we have done our part. Shall the world, then, be overrun with oysters?

Between the Opera House and the PAC (which doesn't have assigned seating, so I sat in various different places), I went through one entire pen and about three notepads, producing the reviews that have been seen on this blog. Around me are about a dozen empty fuel tanks (2L bottles of lemonade from Aldi) which, along with probably half as many again that got binned elsewhere, powered me for these three weeks. We've consumed three entire jars of hot chocolate, four kilos of sausages, and a couple of sets of batteries for Midga's camera. There were no injuries sustained during Savoynet's rehearsals or performances (as far as I'm aware; certainly no serious ones), so the "insurance policy" heatpacks we have here are still standing idly by. We have done well.

And now it's half past three. In a couple of hours, we begin the long trek home; we depart Buxton at 17:45 Monday local time, and arrive home probably about 08:00 Wednesday local time... yes, we spend all of Tuesday travelling. Granted, nine of those hours are mythical ones created by a timezone difference, but still! Long time of flying. But then it's home, and hello Thea, and hello Sikorsky! How I've missed you both.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Fusion Theatre Belfast: The Mikado

The beginning of the Festival was marked with a Mikado with every member over sixty, performed as an exact replica of the classic staging, down to the last fan movement. The end of the Festival is marked with a Mikado with every member under twenty-five, with extremely non-classic direction, choreography, and even orchestration (two keyboards, two guitars, and two percussionists). The characters Gilbert wrote and the melodies Sullivan composed can be recognized in many forms.

This would have to be the largest chorus I've ever seen on the PAC stage, and for good reason. With no less than seventy (or so I'm told - they never stood still long enough to be counted), the finales were a smidge crowded! Dressing rooms would have had to be used in shifts, and the Keith Park/11 Group style "Small Wings" were constantly an issue (especially with the upstage cloth, which billowed when people walked behind it). Many of the performers were quite young, ranging down to, I'd guess, about four or five years old. And somehow, this huge company was brought together with a precision that compares reasonably with the professional G&S Opera Company, whose praises I have sung here on many occasions for that exact reason. And their energy! I swear you could run the entire lighting rig off this chorus, if you could just harness them somehow! This after they'd already given a matinee the same day, AND there was a cabaret afterwards (which I wasn't able to see, alas); must be something they're doing pretty amazingly right over in Ireland!

As I said, the characters were perfectly recognizable in this modern take. Pooh-Bah (Gareth Brow) likes his monies, and prefers cash down to PayPal - and frankly, I don't blame him. Nanki-Poo (Conor Carson) is a poor musician, in every sense of the word, despite not being a Second Trombone, but instead a lead electric guitar(ist!)ist. Ko-Ko (Conal Corr) has his list of unwanted persons on a brandless tablet computer, though he hasn't completely eschewed paper, for the speech he (very badly) reads Katisha (Orla McCormick) was provided - by Pitti-Sing (Jessica Webb) - on paper. The Mikado (Rory McCollum) is every bit in charge, as always, though I got the distinct impression that Pish-Tush (Matthew Good) had more influence on what actually happened around the place, simply by virtue of doing the work. And Yum-Yum (Hannah Conlon), daughter-in-law elected, knew how to sway a crowd - all she had to do was pull out a flag, and everyone started in on what must have been the schoolgirl version of their national cry, I think; every member of the chorus pulled out a Japanese flag (demonstrating a flag-production deftness that I normally see only with Savoynet curtain calls) and joined in the tornado. Yes, this was undoubtedly The Mikado, if a somewhat hacked-up one!

Many of the PAC shows have felt a little over-miked; I'm aware that miking a live performance perfectly is nearly impossible, so this is not to say that anybody's been incompetent, but this is simply a consequence of the performing space. But with Fusion's Mikado, the clear and obvious miking actually seemed to fit the style quite well.

Above all, these performers were having fun, and loads of it. Laugh lines were injected into the script, everyone bubbled with wit and good humour, and their energy and enthusiasm carried across to us. A highly entertaining final performance of the Festival, and deservedly the winners of the Adjudicator's Award for their choreography.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

G&S Opera Co: Princess Ida

Before we begin, I'd like to draw your attention to the creepiness of the plot setup for Princess Ida, and compare it with other G&S plots. According to this chart, a man of 2 years old should be looking for a wife of 8, not a wife of 1. This is commented on in song. However, consider Iolanthe, in which the title fairy has "a couple of centuries or so" to her name, which means she shouldn't date the Lord Chancellor until he's at least 107, or - even worse - Pirates: Ruth is supposed to be a "wife of 1000", which means she should date a man no younger than 507! So I have to agree with Hilarion that those prophets were "false and foolish".

It's over now, the music of the Festival... which is why I'm a little delayed posting these last couple of reviews. As those who've been in the Festival Club will know, Alice of Wonderland has been joining us there; she's also been watching a few of the performances with us. She doesn't often comment on the shows, but in this instance she appreciated the toys the ladies wielded in the third act - although the croquet mallet didn't look much like the sort she used. (Also, the exit was sung to "Death to the Invader", rather dismally and off-key. Takes some skill to pull that off convincingly.) She also considered that when the three rude warriors had removed their armor, that the monstrous crow ought to be along soon. Shows how much she understands of Gilbert and Sullivan, even though they were roughly contemporaries of her.

The G&S Opera Co shows always demonstrate commendable precision. I've mostly stopped even writing it in my notes, because it's a given; there will be times when the entire chorus does an action exactly on the beat. This is why I love and admire these performances. And it's not just a mechanical precision, but strong characterization too. The face-off between the Princess Ida (Abigail Iveson) and King Hildebrand (Stuart Pendred) in the second act finale is a highlight of the opera - the clash of two strong wills (or, to be more accurate, the clash of Hildebrand's strong will with Ida's strong won't) against a backdrop of one scared and one chauvinistic chorus. And she can be more tender, too - asking "Is this the end?" while gazing down at a motionless Hilarion (Oliver White), thought slain in battle. (Spoiler alert: He gets better.) He and his companions Cyril (Jeremy Finch) and Florian (Henry Manning) sneak very efficiently into the female sanctum, even offering a service to the Lady Blanche (Frances McCafferty) when she was stuck for a light for her cigar... and it was none the three men who left behind the etui that was later discovered. Poor Melissa (Charlotte Baptie), trying to explain THAT one away! But when it comes to dealing with the men, it's the Lady Psyche (Victoria Byron) who would be in the best position, being parade-ground sergeant to the entire community; between superintending the lab where they brew up tongues to flash their rage and explaining all ranunculus bulbosus's tricks before BC 163, she somehow managed to maintain a repertoire of song-and-dance routines with which to explain herself - A Lady Fair had the distinct impression of being an in-character performance piece. And in the third act, we see that woman, armed to the task, can meet man face-to-face on his own ground and be no worse off than Arac, Guron, and Scynthius (Bruce Graham, Alastair McCall, and Miles Horner), once they'd gotten themselves ready for battle. Interestingly, not a single weapon was used in the final showdown; the stewnce had left their various toys behind, Hilarion and his friends had travelled light to infiltrate the university, and the three warriors had never actually concocted the intelligence required to obtain real weapons. So the final battle was conducted as a bare-hand struggle, each trying to strangle his opponent. Still, even without their rusty - err I mean trusty - blades, they were enough of a boast for their father King Gama (Simon Butteriss), who not only complained about everyone from the stage, but presumably also complained about them from the front, as he also directed the entire show. Hmm. I wonder what it would actually be like to see G&S characters directing each other. Gama probably wouldn't be the hardest to work with - Rose Maybud would be finicky about every minute detail, and dance steps would be awkward when her heart tells her "left" and "right" at odd intervals. I think we can be glad of the expert direction of the person who played Gama, as evidenced by the quality of the finished product.

A few lines were changed from what Gilbert originally wrote. The offensive "bleaching" line from the second act was changed to "And like tenors they'll be screeching by and by"; various laugh lines were inserted, somewhat arbitrarily in places. These sorts of changes are a good indicator of diction - it's hard to tell, sometimes, whether you're really hearing the words or filling them in automatically. Up in the gallery, every syllable was clear and crisp, every consonant sharply audible. I was speaking with a young man who had never seen a Gilbert and Sullivan before, and was seeing this one because one of his friends was in the chorus; as a first demonstration of what G&S is like, this was no shameful performance. We enjoyed it very much.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Trent Opera: Iolanthe

Two years ago, Trent opened the Festival competition. This year, they conclude it. Under the skilled (though perhaps overworked) direction of Andrew Nicklin, a chorus of hunter-fisher types elevated themselves to the magnificent rank of Lord High Everything Else. Or, looking at it another way, a House of Peers disrobed en masse. In any case, the chorus of peers was completely devoid of those magnificent robes that we're trained to expect in an Iolanthe; for better or for worse, they were garbed instead for hunting and fishing (on Phyllis's grounds, presumably).

That's plenty of ado there, let's get to the characters. Some of them seemed stoic to the point of being emotionless, but not Iolanthe (Sharon Cutworth); though one can hardly sing her second act aria without getting some sense of what's going on. Her son Strephon (Andrew Dennis) was very much at home in the first-act woodland setting, and hardly less so in the second-act Westminster; though one must wonder at the Peers of the Realm poking around amongst gigantic Amanita Muscaria in a glade covered with fairy footprints (if they make any, that is; which is far from certain). The love scene between him and Phyllis (Melanie Mastrototaro) would perhaps have had more enthusiasm if she hadn't been bound up in equestrian costume, which rather reduced the whole "have you ever looked in the glass" scene's believability a little - though we did get the impression that she HAD, after all, looked in the glass, and that a good many times. Her two noblemen, the Lords Thorge Tollollerat (Philip Abbott and Ian Thomson), had also looked at themselves a good number of times, to judge from their opinions of themselves. Of course, Phyllis is above all, and boyish friendship above Phyllis, but still, ego is critical to them. I wonder whether fairies control the peers through their egos... would certainly be the easiest part of them to target. Most had no trouble maintaining a grip on their "other halves", but Fleta (Alice Hands) couldn't hold her beer, I mean her peer. She was clearly still "fairy-in-training", watching her feet in the dance sequences, late off the mark in pretty much everything. Funny, undoubtedly, but it did pull focus at times. I almost didn't look at the Fairy Queen (Susan Holt) and Private Willis (John Carter) - and perhaps didn't mind, since Fleta's antics were definitely funny. There's one more character that I have a good few notes about, and that's Elsie - err I mean Lorina Charlotte - no, Lord Chancellor, that's the one (Stephen Godward). For his nightmare song, instead of watching him experience it, we saw him sitting up, drinking a hot beverage (out of a white mug with some sort of black design - I wasn't close enough to see what the design was, was it something funny/appropriate?), mulling over his memories. He wanted to walk out on Iolanthe during her beautiful aria, but she held him back with her fairy magicks to hear her fairy eloquence. And when finally he did fully understand, they had an almost-scene with a couple of flowers (which I didn't understand - maybe again because of my position in the gallery?) in which something was done which in some way cemented their relationship; would have been nice to what it was.

I have it on good authority that the show felt somewhat under-rehearsed from the inside. Maybe some will strongly criticize it for that, but we are spoiled for choice at this Festival; it was still far better than some other Iolanthes I've seen.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

CLASSICFest Opera Company: The Merry Widow

Tonight we come to the highlight of the controversy! There have been many views posted on Savoynet about how this is an abomination and shouldn't be showing its face in the Gilbert & Sullivan Festival. The furor died down over time, but will doubtless be starting up again about now... Of course, now there'll be two sides arguing "It worked, so the decision was right" vs "It didn't work, so the decision was wrong".

The most obvious indication of how well it worked is, of course, ticket sales. Do people pay their money to see The Merry Widow in the middle of the G&S Festival? To a large extent, yes they do. This isn't the best-sold show I've attended, and certainly isn't the sell-out that I suspected it might be, but there have certainly been a good few shows that it outsold, and that's after a matinee as well. So this isn't earning that dread description "a great artistic success" - and a financial flop.

Not that it wasn't artistically successful. The music is lovely, especially if - as I do - you love a good waltz tune. The words are unfamiliar to many of us, so we really need to hear them; some of the leads were very good at spitting their consonants to the gallery, but a few had some trouble with that - I suspect perhaps the tempi may have gotten in the way of clarity at times. In any case, we got enough to follow the plot and laugh at the jokes (Anna totally trolled everyone at the end of the second act, to goodly laughter).

The orchestra pit was fairly well filled. The harp is a touch that the G&S Society of Victoria couldn't even have dreamed of when we put on Merry Widow a few years back... and it adds a definite something.

Enthusiastic performers, effective pairings, and energetic prancing about the stage. An enjoyable production.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

New London Opera Group: The Sorcerer

The second debut company in as many nights, New London Opera Group was in enthusiastic evidence last night. That energy, the notice stating that pyro would be used, and the programme's indication that Ahrimanes would be stepping out of the chorus for the finale, made a rather promising introduction to the show.

This festival, we've had shows directed by the Pirate King, Ko-Ko, King Gama, the Lord Chancellor, Sir Despard, the Duchess of Plaza-Toro, and of course the conductor, but this is the first time the director is a member of the chorus. I don't know what that means, it just seemed noteworthy somehow.

Also noteworthy was the inclusion of the second incantation scene. I have to admit that I'm not familiar with it; also, I can't find an authoritative source (like the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive) with the text, but I found it on wikisource; in short, Wells applies to Ahrimanes and learns how to undo the spell. (NLOG performed the section without a chorus, so all the chorus responses listed in that page were cut.) I'd love to know when this was originally written and when cut; it's certainly not something performed in most renditions of The Sorcerer. To be quite frank, I think it's superfluous - it's like the Ghosts March from Ruddigore - adds nothing to the show and takes up time. But it's good to dust off these sections now and then, giving us a chance to decide whether or not we like them. (I'm sure there'll be those in the audience who took the contrary view to mine. Which is all to the good!) Incidentally, the inclusion of unfamiliar sections has a tendency to level the playing field a bit as regards diction; even those of us who know every word of the original are forced to depend on the performers' clarity of words and projection of voice. I for one had no trouble hearing what was being sung.

Not all NLOG's innovations were to the good, though. I really did NOT like Dr Daly's "Oh, my voice is sad and low" rendered suicidally, with him bringing on a hangman's noose and looking for a place to terminate his existence. A clergyman would never contemplate such a thing (at least, not in Gilbert's world), and it's in complete contrast to his offer at the end of the opera, to quit the country rather than be any man's rival. (Also, I have to remark: G&S characters are really REALLY bad at throwing nooses over things. After all that effort to actually tie a hangman's noose into a rope, they then spend dramatically-valuable time trying to throw it over something that can't possibly hold it, giving ample time for the suicide to be interrupted - or to interrupt someone else, as in The Mikado. Guys, if you really want to kill yourselves, you're going to have to do it a LOT faster, otherwise the plot is sure to catch you!)

So, characters. Dr Daly (John Cuthbert), as mentioned, tries to commit suicide at one point, though he doesn't seem at all inclined to that at any other point. He's younger than he often is depicted, and a much more reasonable match than I've often seen for Constance (Fay Carradine), who would have looked a lot prettier with contact lenses; what a pity they weren't a viable option in the 1940s! David Turner, in his adjudication, said that he would be willing to do a lot to get her away from her mother, Mrs Partlet (Laura Anstice-Pim), and I'm inclined somewhat to agree; Constance deserved to be away from the overbearingness... but she did love and respect her mother, which is a good thing. Mrs Partlet was a very enthusiastic "clean and tidy widdy" in the second act, very obviously in love with Sir Marmaduke (Jim Chadburn), who returned her affections. Spell cancellation aside, there really was nothing anyone could do to prevent that marriage, so of course Alexis (Robert Felstead) had to consent to it. It must have so galled him to have his own recommendations cast up at him in that way; I wonder if he continued his role as evangel of true happiness after this debacle. After all, he had his Aline (Rebekah Engeler), and none shall part them from each other (he the tree and she the flower, and all that); maybe he should settle down, get a home going (with a filter - they're very useful things, you know; especially with the 1940s state of the Thames water, as Aline reminds us), and see where things go from there. He even has the mother-in-law he would prefer, the Lady Sangazure (Charlotte Collier), who will make a true and loving wife - just look at the way she sprang, literally, to the defense of her beloved when the crowd wanted him dead. Unfortunately for her, she was trying to protect John Wellington Wells (Lee Devlin), and the plot has already doomed him. The more unfortunate because he's a great salesman and artist; everything that I saw from managing props for Jack Point in Savoynet's Yeomen, take about ten times that much for the introduction of Wells. His suitcase turns into a table full of exotica, somewhat reminiscent of Professor Emelius Brown from Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", with rapid-fire trick after trick, never letting his audience have a chance to think about how he does them. And of course, being a good salesman, he will always listen to the possibility that someone may "require a quantity" of his company's leading article, even if he's departing in high dudgeon after being grossly insulted, and not in Pooh-Bah's way. He has command of some rather fancy flash-pots, too, with six of them going off across the performance.

Probably the biggest problem with tonight's show was in the auditorium, in which there were rather a large number of empty seats. The gallery had just six people - and two of them were ushers - and the upper circle had about as many seats unoccupied as occupied, and that not counting the restricted-viewing seats. I don't know why this is; do people avoid The Sorcerer, or avoid companies they've never heard of? I hope that New London Opera Group can return to the Festival next year, and that they'll receive a more visible welcome.

Most Definitive Production - what does it mean?

Having mentioned the term twice now, I ought to define it. (That's the same rule that led me to define reiplophobia, though the usages hadn't been on the blog in that case.) In brief: A definitive production (of, say, Patience) is one that showcases Gilbert and Sullivan, more than the director and cast. It's what some people call a "traditional" production, but that term has so many different meanings that it's largely useless.

Suppose you're involved in a Patience (I'll keep using that example, but the exact same argument can apply to any other G&S - or, for that matter, to any other show), and you're trying to recruit someone into the chorus who's never seen it before. S/he asks you, "What IS Patience?", and to explain, you say: "Get this DVD". Which one do you point to? A definitive one. (In today's world, it'll almost certainly be down to a DVD by the time you're highlighting it in this way, but it'd be even better if you could tell people to "see this live production". Same difference.)

"Definitive" is an ideal that may not be perfectly attained, but the closer a show comes to that, the better it'll be as a showcase production. It's worth noting, by the way, that there can be many definitive works, all distinct and different (and distinctly different), and all worth showing off. This term does NOT mean "slavishly copies hundred-year-old business", or preclude a director's imagination. It just means that the underlying words, music, and characters, are the most obvious.

Grosvenor LOG's Patience was excellent in this regard. Aside from the antics with Jane's cello, which cost us a bit of the music in favour of some hilarity, the most notable aspect of the performance was the way that all Gilbert's jokes were laughed at. That means they were delivered clearly and audibly, with proper timing (comedy is all about timing), and not letting anything get in the way of what was written over a hundred years ago and is still funny today. Yet Grosvenor's Patience was its own item, too; it wasn't an empty vehicle for Gilbert, it had charm specific to itself. The two were not in conflict, which is why I think, though some don't, that it was an excellent show.

I've cited as definitive the professional Ruddigore from two years ago, despite it having a few distinctly off-putting aspects (I really do not see that the ghost scene requires drugs); perhaps some day another Ruddigore will eclipse it (though that one will still be excellent). Lyric Opera's Mikado from this year contends with Savoynet's from 2011. Perhaps one day there'll be a boxed set of superb productions that can be cited as "This is Gilbert & Sullivan", doing what the Brent Walker series failed dismally to do; I would love to see that happen.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Grosvenor Light Opera Group: Patience

Type-cast much? As much as Dauntless doing Ruddigore, I think. For their first show at the Festival, this has been an excellent one; and I am definitely going to have to elaborate on what I mean by "Most Definitive Production", as this Patience is another strong contender.

There seem to be two types of show: Those that use follow spots, and those that could have benefited from them. This was one of the latter; there were several points where I'd have liked to see a singer highlighted, for instance. But such as it was, it was; there were no dark patches where people would sing unseen, and the bust of Bunthorne was always clearly visible. (Good likeness, too, and a nice touch.) Last night's Pinafore was frenetic; tonight's Patience is languid, as befits the maidens (though I could have hoped for a little more energy from the dragoons - they were precise when they moved, but didn't move all that much).

The title role of Patience (Rachel Wood) was played sensitively, with a lovely sweet voice. She's one of the ones who wanted a spot, though, for Love is a Plaintiff - err, I mean, a Plaintive Song; a whole wide open stage, lit as though for a full company, is a lot for one soloist to use. But so be it; one can't have everything. Joined by her beloved, and the namesake of the company, Grosvenor (Huw Montague Rendall), the pair gave an interesting reading of the "Farewell, Archibald" sequence: he was exiting, not approaching her, when she bids him to "Stop there". Not what I usually see; works quite well. His rival, Bunthorne (David Court), happily sits under his own statue in the exact way that Jayne Cobb didn't want to. He's a funny fellow, is Bunthorne. I can just imagine him confiding in Patience: "I am a salaried poet, and is there aught in nature more ridiculous? Why, when there's naught else to po at, I po at myself till I ache for it." His scene with Patience in the first act was so clearly delivered that every one of Gilbert's jokes got a laugh, and applause followed his exit. His work with the Lady Jane (Joanna Pullicino) was of a similarly high standard, but her performance was highlighted more by her act two solo... playing a cello in a hacked-up and comically wrong version of the accompaniment to her recitative (with the orchestra silent), sliding smoothly into a more conventional system of "on stage: sing, in pit: play" (which had been violated the other direction a moment earlier, by the chorus singing their opening number from the pit!) in time for the main song. And what an accomplishment THAT is is a duchess, for so she'll be once the Duke (Rob Richmond) marries her. But I guess we're not supposed to worry about how badly marriages will turn out - that's the job of the sequel. Hmm. "Patience II: The Return of Reginald", in which all the maidens divorce their new husbands, Bunthorne secretly murders Grosvenor and tries to hook up with his widow, and WS Gilbert turns in his grave. I think I'm onto something here. To be honest, though, I think what I'm onto is a lengthy digression, so I'll get right offto it again. The Duke and his companions, the Colonel (Michael Pandazis) and Major (Stuart Gill), made very little change to become aesthetic - rolled up their trousers, bared their feet (except the Major, for some reason), removed their jackets, and added some little things like hats and flowers. That was all, yet to the Ladies Angela (Penny Mullord) and Saphir (Melissa Clarke) it was sufficient. The quintet could perhaps have benefited from a little more movement at times, but was sung well and definitely stood up for itself.

A few notes, dear reader, for deserving villagers. Starting with the one referred to at times as the "Off Note", or more technically the "Soft Note", that of the echoing voice; beautiful. The first G&S I sang on stage in (prior to that I'd crewed a Gondoliers) was Patience, and quite a bit of rehearsal time was spent on the Soft Note. Maybe it's just because I know the bass part so well, but I'm sure I could pick it out tonight. The acoustics of the Buxton Opera House are extremely kind to the gallery, and I could hear clearly every single note of that lovely sequence. Also in the finale, but unrelated: the girls' first entrance reminded me of Schlemiel the Painter, coming in singly and each one going a little further to find her place in the line. That'll be funny to one, maybe two, of my readers, but oh well. Can't please everyone.

Great show, followed by hilarious cabaret. Thank you, Grosvenor LOG, and I hope to see you again some Festival in the future!

University of St Andrews: The Gondoliers

If in doubt, go meta. When you have something crazy to do, hang a lampshade on it. And of course, make sure everyone knows their words and music. (Well, two out of three's not bad. Call it two and a half out of three.) There's only one recipe for a perfect show: Work hard, stick to it. Nothing like work.

Shows in the Paxton - err, I mean the Pavilion Arts Centre - can't fit in the same number of people who would comfortably fill the Opera House stage. Gilbert's specified four dozen chorus would (a) be shoulder to shoulder across the stage, and (b) require double-decker arrangements in the dressing rooms. So of course the chorus is a lot smaller (and so is the orchestra - about a dozen, though there are only ten names in the programme). The girls were fine, but there were a few times when the four gentlemen seemed a little thin on the ground. But thanks to the microphones (which weren't, as they have been in some other shows, turned too far up for most of the night), they did the job of six men each.

I'm sitting in the Festival Club, listening to Caroline Taylor (who played Casilda, and was also Kate in Savoynet's Yeomen) singing to us from Carousel. Lovely voice. Can you afford to export her to Australia? I want her in one of our productions! Ahem. It's not my place to embarrass the people I loved working with in Yeomen, so I'll stow my jawing tackle and belay. Anyway. She makes a great Casilda, and duets beautifully with Luiz (Adam Robbie). Luiz, meanwhile, considers his greatest accomplishment to be his farmyard imitations, which I have to say are terrible! Though he managed to get his employer, the Duke of Plaza-Toro (Ruaridh Maxwell), to join him; but considering how lost the Duke was (I'm fairly sure he had a map of Buxton - no wonder he couldn't figure out which way up it was), that's perhaps no great boast. In any case, all he could have done would be to defer to his Duchess (Elizabeth Unsworth Wilson), whose strength of presence made up for the accent that at times got in the way of her clarity; she suffered one of those horrible moments, and I wish there could have been a do-over opportunity for the sake of the DVD, but live performance can be rough. Her consistent drunk act gives some sort of excuse for it, I suppose! And having painted myself into a corner, I'll jump out somewhat randomly and cover Don Alhambra (Mark Hamid) on the flimsy connection that he looked rather younger than the Duke and Duchess, even though he ought to be at least their age (having been Grand Inquisitor when their daughter was a baby). Anyway. His primary purpose is, as always, to make trouble and then fetch up the bandit queen at the end, which he did competently. Inez (Annabel Phillips) gets that tiny but critical role, so much plot in so little stage time. Every word was audible. Of course, we never find out who her son is, but it's either Marco (Laurie Slavin) or Giuseppe (Alexander Levine), both of whom sang their respective solos and duets smoothly (TAPOSE was neatly at the top of Laurie's range; the orchestra let him down a little, but he sang it finely). Their wife-selection antics almost got the better of them when they picked out the wrong girls, even after three tries through the music, but Gilbert provided them an opportunity to change, and the rest of the show was run as written with Marco taking Gianetta (Maddy Kearns) and Giuseppe taking Tessa (Emma Rogers). All four did a superb job of the Regular Royal Queen, and also (with the chorus) the Cachucha. Precise movements and working well together.

Snarky asides make for a fun show, as long as you don't mind repairing the fourth wall after each performance. Snarky non-asides do too, and sometimes you can even pretend you still have a fourth wall. Casilda wants a pony, not a salute; and she also remarks upon the reason for her family's impecunious state - namely, rental of one (1) cardboard gondola, which they carried on and then abandoned at the Ducal Palace. It's the little moments that enhance a good show to being excellent. Loved the show, and loved the cabaret tonight as well (though that last is shared with the members of Grosvenor LOG; more about their Patience shortly).

Curry!! Fiiiiiiiishhhhh: Part II

A few thoughts, dear aunt, for deservingly random villagers. Today I took over Michael's job completely: Curried prawns for dinner. And in commemoration of that fact, here are a few things you might have heard if you'd joined us at the TWROAPP on a few of the nights here. Principal players include the Rosuav (played by me), Il Midga (played by Michael), and Chris and Sarah-Jane Hall (played by themselves).

"We were just discussing the structural integrity of mushy peas."

"Gaily <dissolves into laughter>, lightly <dissolves again>"

"If you pile that soup up, what angle could you get it on?"

"I got bored, so I studied law."

"What's that stuff you drink that doesn't get you drunk?" (and no, not referring to my fuel tank)

"I proved that I was a girl tonight."


Of course, we do have serious conversations there too, like the relative merits of cricket and slimline pens. But they don't matter much.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Lyric Opera Productions Ireland: HMS Pinafore

For one of the more popular of the G&Ses, Pinafore actually doesn't come up all that often at the Festival. This is the first one I've seen, pot-lucks aside; and my brain wants me to put in the chorus responses in "When I was a lad", because I more often hear it in the Festival Club than from the stage! Like Pirates (and to a lesser extent Mikado), Pinafore will seldom be done really badly - the greater risk is mediocrity. So do you aim to please the pundits or distinguish your Pinafore from others? Maybe you try for both.

I said this yesterday about their Mikado and I'll say it again about Pinafore: chorus precision is excellent. The men, especially, have numerous opportunities to show off their drilling. As we've just been reminded (in the cabaret), the same chorus played in both shows, which is a HUGE job; drilling until those foot or hand movements are perfectly together takes time, and that time clearly was spent.

And it's not just the chorus who excel, of course. The leads lead the way - the lovely voice of Josephine (Marie McGrann) in her solos, the low but audible snarking of Dick Deadeye (Philip Cox) - the boat cloak "suits you", he says; Sir Joseph (Eugene O'Hagan) is, as the part demands, a character. He's young and attractive, and it seems that Hebe (Annaliesa Evans) may have pinched the cameo of him that Josephine was given, though I'm not entirely sure of that. She seemed to have something, at least. Made it feel a little less sudden and contrived when the three living pairs, err I mean three loving pairs, were united. At least for the moment - Capt Corcoran (James Cleverton) and Buttercup (Raphaela Mangan) might have a bit of rockiness ahead of them, given their antics back-and-forth when Former Captain Corcoran admitted that he would "hardly ever" but perhaps occasionally be untrue to her! (Gilbert's sailors are actually pretty much always true to those whom they profess to love. Family-friendly entertainment, after all.) Ralph Rackstraw (Lawrence Thackeray), as the new captain, should be reasonable toward his opposite number; the former captain was fairly polite, but I could imagine some scenes of justifiable jealousy and the elevation of the expression "If you please" to profanity!

Another technically brilliant show (the off-stage chorus and the orchestra in perfect sync, numerous oddments flown in and out through the show, and all sorts of little things happening in the background); if you want to know what David Russell Hulme's reconstruction of "Reflect, My Child" sounds like, you could do far worse than pick up a DVD of Lyric's rendition.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Lyric Opera Productions Ireland: Mikado

If I'd seen this last night, I'd have seen two half-performances broken by a fire alarm evacuation, but I didn't, so I'll let other people talk about that. Instead of the unusual excitement of thinking we're all about to die horribly, we had a high quality Mikado that looks poised to win the "Most Definitive Production" award, which doesn't exist but should. Perhaps I should go into detail about what I mean there in a separate post some time.

As with other professional productions this festival, choral precision is excellent. Fan movements tend to be fairly obvious, and with a large chorus, perfect synchronization is as impressive as it is satisfying. The follow spotting, too, was most pleasant to me... okay, so I have a bit of a thing for spots, but you can't deny the grand effect of darkening the whole stage down to a single spot on Katisha for "The hour of gladness"! The Little List song was changed, of course. Everybody does that; it's expected of you! And as has been this festival's tradition, reference to the shift to Harrogate was included (and then also later on, Nanki-Poo's address was there).

The title role, played by Derek Ryan, was the frequently-seen overbearing type, with a loud and terrifying laugh whenever he contemplates punishing somebody. Cruel, capricious, and possibly as much the cause of his son's departure as the proposal of marriage! Katisha (Jackie Curran-Olohan) takes after her sovereign, with the imposing appearance and general lack of courtesy. I doubt very much that she wants Nanki as particularly as she was quoted as, but simply wants to marry anyone, even just for a minute, rather than die an old maid. And so she should be happy with Ko-Ko (Eugene O'Hagen), who after all did have an execution - of sorts - so his position should be secure again. He has his two remaining wards, Pitti-Sing (Annalies Evans) and Peep-Bo (Dominica Williams), and the three of them can trade barbed wit back and forth at high speed for the rest of their days (which they'll probably count on the Nanki-Poo scale where each day is a year... poor tortured Ko-Ko). The Mikado's Daughter-In-Law-Elected, Yum-Yum (Jean Wallace), has a lovely voice, as one would expect of a company of this nature and a leading role; but it's only one voice, unlike Pooh-Bah (Tony Finnegan), who has a different voice for every salaried job he holds! Most impressive. Pish-Tush (Ciaran Olohan) has one job and one voice, which would be called the normal numbers of these things, but does enough of the plot that we don't even know what his job really is. And Nanki-Poo (Peter O'Rielly) is either a poor musician, or a bad musician, or a bad imitation of a poor musician, or a poor imitation of a bad musician; and I think he wanted some elf-ears, given the way his hair and costume looked. He would have made a fine Legolas. But as it was, he made a fine Nanki-Poo, which is rather better, given the setting.

I've shortened this review somewhat owing to it being 7AM and I have yet to get to bed. But I will say one thing: Eugene O'Hagen (Ko-Ko) improvises brilliantly. The Inner Brotherhood will have recognized that little bit of improvisation; the rest of the audience probably wouldn't even have known. VERY well done.

Dauntless Theatre: Ruddigore

With a name like Dauntless Theatre, it's obvious they have to bring Ruddigore to the Festival (since Yeomen and Iolanthe have but passing references to the word). There are many ways to play Ruddigore... today we saw one of them.

I've mentioned before about action during the overture. This production had the curtain open pretty much straight away, and began to establish the setting (which is a carnival, of sorts); to be honest, I don't think we would have lost much if the curtain had stayed closed until the first number, but it provided something else to look at than the dozen in the orchestra, if you like that sort of thing. (For those keeping score at home, this used the original overture, rather than the Toye variant.)

Dame Hannah (Helena Culliney) was instead a (rather young, actually) nun; presumably she cloistered herself as part of separating herself from Sir Roderic (Rory Oliver), though nothing was explicitly stated about this. (Would she renounce her vows at the end, as part of reuniting with her old love?) Apart from her title (she was referred to as "Sister Hannah", no Dame), no words were changed to make this work, though I was wondering if perhaps her reference to the "morals of a Methodist" ought to have been changed - an opportunity for something, there. Sir Roderic himself was straight-forward; impressively, he (among half a dozen) remained on stage and stationary through the whole second act. (I've no idea what the structure was they were behind, something constructed out of rectangles it seems; I guess maybe it was their picture frames - not hung, just piled up in the attic.) Roddy, like all the ghosts, seemed almost completely incapable of emotion; especially in his dialogue, he had that flat, cold, almost monotonic style that can be either incredibly creepy or incredibly scary if it's worked right; and in this case it was. The same flat-scary style applied also to the Agonies, which consisted of the ghosts making extremely slight movements, and the lighting going crazy. Whatever it was, it certainly caused enough pain to have Sir Rivven (Stuart Sellens) writhing on the floor. (I spell his name that way because, when he himself declared it at the beginning of the second act, he said "without the elision, Sir Rivven Murgatroyd". So clearly that's how it's spelled.) Somehow he reminded me of Joe Rudd from "On Our Selection", though without the stutter. He and Old Adam (Andrew Watson) decided between them on a fresh name for the faithful servant, but calling him Gideon Crawle didn't actually happen on stage, it was all back to Old Adam. Habit, I guess. He was a definitely OLD old Adam, possibly off a sailing ship (he entered whistling "We sail the ocean blue" in the first act), and appreciating his eight-hours-at-the-seaside telling of the truth. He could have been the devoted servant of any of several generations of Murgatroyds, and was almost certainly known to Sir Despard (Sebastion Davidson), for want of a better link to another character. Despard pulled off the whole "I am so eeeevul" thing, and also the switch to "Oh, I'm virtuous now, and I provided shoes for my beloved" (which she noisily appreciated). But even freshly virtuous, he still expressed a most reasonable frustration at the antics of the bridesmaids, snatching off one of them the bouquet that she'd just thrust into his face, and tossing it carelessly out of the way... straight into the hands of Mad Margaret (Kayleigh Oliver, who also directed, and chairs the company's committee). She wasn't as over-the-top mad as I've at times seen her portrayed, but on the flip side, she was the tented fortune teller, which leaves questions of just what sort of fortunes she told. "You will meet a bad baronet. He will give you an Italian glance, and you will die POP!" Certainly Rose Maybud (Anna Scott) was reasonably scared of her, which may explain why she wasn't asked along when the party went to beg marriage permission. Rose is too nice a person to cut anyone out, but really, do you want someone on your diplomatic mission who might have an outburst of Megism? It's a good thing she's so nice, though, or she'd have some words with her formerly-engaged, Dick Dauntless (Seann Wilkinson), who managed to pick himself up a fresh girl (Zorah, Emma Rogers) in the brief moment while Rose is telling Sir R that she loved him madly, passionately, hopelessly, despairingly.

This show had a number of neatnesses to it, a number of points about which I thought excellent, or at least fairly decent. (For instance, fairly constant background action - life doesn't stop just because there's stuff happening. Verisimilitude at the price of the Law of Conservation of Detail. Also the squeezebox accompaniment of the hornpipe - showing off the talent of a member of the company, I think; singularly appropriate to the context.) It was marred, though, by some lack of polish and time spent drilling the words and music; there are enough neat ideas to give this show a sense of promise, but I would hesitate to introduce someone to G&S through this. It's very close to being excellent, though. Very close indeed.

Friday, 9 August 2013

St. Anne's MADS: The Gondoliers

Sunny music, bright lighting states, lots of music. That's what The Gondoliers promises, and I think everyone who directs it will know that. I would have liked to see follow spots used, but one can't have everything. The cast have just entertained us with their cabaret, reminding us once again that they are Canadian, down to the stereotypes.

The curtain went out during the overture, revealing general Venetian life and the beginnings of the day. With no pause between that and the opening song, the show proceeded smoothly through non-stop until the Ducal party. Lighting was smooth and mood-enhancing; and occasionally, it had a bit of fun all to itself, such as when a thunderstorm broke the Ducal party up and got them all off stage prior to the chorus's reentry; the lights gave us a reasonably simple rendition of lightning flashes (even using the house lights at one point!).

Starting with the smallest of the major roles: Inez (Liz Thomson) was a little quieter than perhaps is a good idea, but I could hear every syllable she spoke. Her "son" Luiz (Jeffrey Smith) clearly knew all along, as he was standing by in royal robes while Inez warbled. Her real son, either Marco (Michael P. Taylor) or Giuseppe (Tim Kank), seemed content to ply his gondola ever afterward, but I hope Inez at least told them which one was Baptisto's son. They've done so much work to get everything to where it ought to be, they deserve a little consideration! At least they get their wives (Tessa (Jennie Friesen Garde) and Gianetta (Alison Enns)), and perhaps Luiz will permit them another banquet in the best Pointdextre tradition before they all leave. "In a contemplative fashion" worked well, and I'd stay out of those girls' ways when they're that angry!! But rather less inclined to get angry is Casilda (Sarah Angus), who loved her king and who laughed aloud at the merry men, definitely not moping mum. Acutely conscious of her social position, yet warm and loving despite disparity in rank. Her mother, Bridgit Maynard the Duchess of Plaza-Toro (Laura Schatz, who also directed), travelled with her, for Casilda is a good girl. (Chris, quit making Yeomen references. That show is done and dusted. Okay? Okay.) She will make a good queen, once she's had a few lessons in taking charge and getting stuff done. Of course, Barataria WAS in a state of insurrection at the time. It mightn't be that easy to take charge of a whole lot of angry citizens, but fortunately we didn't see any insurrectionists. Her husband, the Duke of Plaza-Toro Ltd (Roy Schatz), aristocratically and gently led his wife rather than forcing a conflict with her. One gets the idea that the Duke doesn't much feel like fighting his wife or his daughter, that it's easier to kow-tow to their wishes than to fight them over petty complaints. And finally, the show's Situation Engineer: Don Alhambra (Marc Potvin). A lot older than the girls he's flirting with, a lot smarter than he gives the two kings credit for, and he held himself a lot more stiffly than the "trainees". Fun to watch; not fun to live anywhere near, I should think.

A few lines of dialogue were altered, usually for Rule of Funny. Don Alhambra was offered "a plate of pancakes with bacon and maple"; Luiz can tap and juggle, rather than imitate a farmyard. After Giuseppe queries "Not even a Lord High cook?", Don Alhambra tells us (aside): "And I thought the tenor was the thick one...". There were also numerous other tweaks done for laughs, and hopefully not a major jarring clash to any but the most strict rivet-counters!

I hope that St Anne's M&D Society will continue to bring shows to the Festival in the future.

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.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Savoynet: Yeomen of the Guard - adjudication

It's my pleasure now to hand over to the Festival Adjudicator, David Turner.

After that splendid overture, we had a very arresting opening scene, with an impression of life in the tower, proving it wasn't just a place of fear. Here was a Phoebe with something on her mind, and the solo had a different quality.
Her playful time with Wilfred was - a little unexpected! Maybe he was going to be a port in a storm. Maybe she would need him at some stage. But when she was reminded of Fairfax, poor Wilfred disappeared from her thoughts, and her whole attitude changed.

We saw tonight some exceptional, sensitive direction. It was absolutely, beautifully done. I used to be the one you had to be careful what shoes you wore, but I think in this festival I seem to be very concerned with hands, and the hands in nearly every instance tonight were beautiful. They were natural, and you're only natural when you are secure in what you're doing. I thought the attention to detail was quite exceptional, and I knew it was so fairly early on, because Fairfax said "I am ready, good fellows (sigh)", and it was the sigh which said it all - it wasn't just the words.

There were some very impressive company scenes tonight; I thought the arrangements for yeomen and citizens was exceptional and interesting. They didn't look like they'd just arrived on the river bus, it was real. Groupings and placings were skilled, and it gave everybody the opportunity to react and contribute.

It's quite wonderful, really, to have something as familiar as yeomen, and yet tonight experience from it a new experience. I really wanted Phoebe and Wilfred to get together! (laugh) I was in his corner all the time, bless him! I liked the freedom of the scene when Fairfax met his fellow yeomen. It's usually played in a rather starchy sort of style, but here tonight it seemed spontaneous, and that gave it another quality. It gave Fairfax the opportunity to mingle and realistically greet his colleagues. It was an act one finale that was full of good things - warmth, affection, and drama. And a final curtain that gave us something to think about.

The opening of act two had a good sense of realism, and a high level of emotion. That chorus had purpose, and this concentration of emotion at the beginning of the second act carried all way through; there's a lot of deep, deep moving moments, and they were all seized. I haven't made a single note about the finale of act two, it's much too moving. I just watched it and - was moved. And so one should be. His heart breaks. And there were many occasions tonight when you knew Point was hopelessly in love with her.

Musical direction: there was a lot to rejoice tonight. Chorus work for citizens and yeomen was well developed and very secure. The principals' work was of a very high standard, and I loved the passion in the act one finale. I loved the beauty of Strange Adventure, and I loved the sadness of When a Wooer Goes A-Wooing.

Costumes were magnificent; I think Leonard Meryll came in at the end of queue, but that's not his fault, bless him; all the others were fairly impressive, I think he could have thrown wobbly and said "I'm not wearing that hat"! (laugh) But they were very much in period, very sympathetic. Lighting was exceptional tonight; it was exceptional because it changed greatly and you probably never noticed - that is skill, of course, and that skill was put to very good use. Makeup was good, and props also.

The characters. We had a galaxy of wonderful characters tonight!
* Sir Richard, first of all. I thought it was a very good production innovation to include the Lieutenant in the opening chorus. He usually comes on a little bit later and has to work quite hard to establish himself. Not tonight; he was there amongst them, seeing what they were getting up to, and establishing his authority. We knew where he stood from the outset. Authority oozed from him, and I thought the scene with Point had a lovely mixture of exasperation and amusement. Excellent dialogue, I heard every syllable.
* Col Fairfax. This Fairfax was created with skill. So often - not always, but quite lot of times - I've hated Fairfax, I end up thinking he's monster, that he puts Elsie through SUCH terrible emotions. But I didn't feel he was a womanizer tonight. I loved his sympathy, and I loved that kind, comforting embrace with Phoebe. There was nothing saucy about it, you know - "meet me in the white tower in ten minutes" - it was sincere and it was genuine. The character portrayed tonight, as it should be, was a man of quality and breeding. Is Life a Boon - beautifully sung, and what a glorious voice. Free from his Fetters - calmly delivered. A Prisoner Still - oh! I hope you felt that! Wealth of emotion contained there, and amongst all his mischief he says (sincere tone) "Elsie! I did but jest!". Often it's said (casual tone) "Elsie, I did but jest.". Tonight it was given the full treatment.
* Sgt Meryll - a totally believable old soldier and father figure. He is the keenest of observers; he has to be with that family. (laugh) An aspect we rarely see is a level of concern. The trio "Alas I waver" - he combined those words with nervous glances, anxious moments; it made us feel the danger. And the emotion which he has to fall back on, on a number of occasions, was from theheart.
* Leonard Meryll - very little opportunity to shine, it's a very small role, but he did a very good job, and he clearly delivered the important plot, and he effectively - of course - sang the tenor line in the trio.
* Jack Point - well, an engaging personality, he made an impact on his first appearance; enormous energy, and his slightly hidden love coming gently to the surface. Very athletic, and some funny antics with Wilfred which gave a nice comic respite. "He loves her right well" - not just words, sensitivity. A lovely moment - he probably wasn't aware of it - you may not have been! - a lovely moment of great sadness when he's holding Elsie's hand, in the act two trio, and oh! his face, and she gradually withdraws it, and devastation starts to come in.
* Wilfred Shadbolt - well I wrote two, no three words, initially: "cuddly and clean". He was a very appealing character, which is unusual. How I listened afresh tonight to lines given a new slant! Thought that opening solo he did very well indeed, and it added to his stature. He had a simple naivete that was always appealing. I've a feeling that although he had Phoebe's hand, her heart was just around the corner. How could she resist such an old pussycat!
* Elsie Maynard. A glorious performance; a special performance, because she was Elsie. A beautiful, powerful voice, with such emotion. Very much the gypsy. It was for me strangely emphasized even more in her wedding gown. Her input in emotional act two quartets and the wedding finale was exceptional.
* Phoebe - a well studied performance; yes, she is a little minx, her youth colored her approach to life, and I think if she was nice initially to Wilfred, her attitude was "any port in storm", but she had special qualities when you knew she had double thinking there - sometimes she played in a distracted manner because her thoughts were with Fairfax.
* Dame Carruthers - what a splendid Dame Carruthers. In the dialogue before the aria, right at beginning, she did more than deliver lines. She was busy, she had authority, she had conflicting opinions of the prisoners, and most important, she cast fear. Her line was - and she put the pause in - "Silence (pause) you silly girl!" Ooh! It was there. Beautifully done. A wonderful exit with such purpose at end of that. Lovely hands, they just beautifully shaped.
* Kate - rather fussy Kate, making her best impact in the quiet moments of observation, and of course she was a very important soprano input to a very special Strange Adventure.

When I was packing to come, a week last Monday, I went to get my suitcase out of my box room. To go into my box room is an experience. I don't know where it all came from. But underneath most of it was my suitcases, which I pulled out under a shower of books and things sliding off shelves, making me say "it's time I got rid of all this stuff". And I picked up a folly stick. And I thought, "My goodness! It must be thirty-five years ago". I went to Ireland to take part in a training weekend for young people creating theatre. And I was allocated The Yeomen of the Guard. Act one, didn't have to do act two. We arrived on Friday evening at Gurteen Agricultural College, and we finished Sunday afternoon with a public performance. It was a pretty exhausting couple of days, and I had a very tight schedule, and I had to get to Dublin to pick up a certain plane, otherwise I was in trouble. So we all finished, and I grabbed my things, and the taxi came and I got in, and we were going down the drive, and suddenly someone came running alongside the car, and it was my Jack Point. Through the open window he said "Keep this"; it was the folly stick. And I've kept it, and it's going to be more prominent place than under all that debris in my box room! And that's part of tonight. It's part of outreach. Because this is twentieth year of this festival, some of us that were there in the beginning have been thinking back to people and events, and one of the most memorable for me was to go to the Zellerbach Theater in San Francisco, and I was backstage, which is unusual for pre-show, and I was amazed because I had a really new experience. The stage was all set (I don't remember the opera but the stage was set), and people came from everywhere - from the dressing rooms as actors - from the orchestra pit before the overture - one or two from out front - makeup staff, wig staff, general electricians, and so on - and they all came together, in middle of that stage, and without a word from a soul, they joined hands, and they stood for a couple minutes, no speaking, but giving to each other strength. Well, I think the Savoynetters tonight have joined hands, and stretched out, and made links. They've caused us to rejoice in this most beautiful of the operas, and I think we will go away with a lot to be thankful for.
Applause. Exit.

Savoynet: Yeomen of the Guard

It was an awesome show, especially the block-carriers and the stage manager, they were the best of a good bunch.

Okay, so I can't impartially review a show in which I was a block-carrier and my brother stage managed. But I can perhaps give a few random thoughts from backstage.

I'm not sure whether this feels more like opening night or closing night. It has that nervousness that comes with opening night ("will the spinning wheel work?") and the "flying by the seat of our pants" feel of having done the show just once before (the dress rehearsal a few hours ago). But it also has that "we don't need that any more" closing night feel; once a prop has come off-stage, it often can get boxed up as it's now done and dusted.

This is a company composed completely of the competent. Lots of friends I've known by email or past shows, and a good few really lovely people that I've never met before. Our musical director (Emily Senturia (Martinez, CA, USA - I may as well refer to people by their programme entries, since it's usual for this blog)) and Kate (Caroline Taylor (St Andrews, Scotland)), in particular, have been awesome. I would be delighted to work further with them, so hopefully in some years' time we'll find ourselves in the Festival together again!

Diana Burleigh (Melbourne, Vic, Australia) has come up with a way to direct the show so that Fairfax isn't an awful fellow. It involves Elsie (Anne Slovin (Chicago, IL, USA)) almost going mad; she shrinks away from the world for the whole "Leonard, my loved one" solo, coming back in time to see Leonard! My own! - but how can she know she's not hallucinating? In fact, it's not until Jack Point (Jonathan Ichikawa (Vancouver, B.C., Canada)) comes on, and his sadness and pain are such very real sadness and pain, that she can be sure that what she's experiencing is real. (Of course, the audience knew all along. But I'm looking here at Elsie's mind.) So what appears to be the most joyful moment ("Leonard! Ahhhhh!") is really (in a way) the most tragic, and the tragic moment of Point's arrival is the point (pun intended) the tragedy actually starts to ease. An interesting take, and one that I (with my love of mad girls) love.

I loved the show from backstage. What did people in the audience think? Anyone care to post a review?

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!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Harrogate G&S Society: The Mikado

Regular readers of this blog will know that I admire precision and look for it in every show I review. It's especially important in The Mikado, where every member of the chorus has a fan and can (and should, on many occasions) make a clear and sharp noise with it. And so I was looking out for some sharp fan movements in the opening chorus, with an entire stageful of Japanese noblemen giving a simultaneous 'clack'. It didn't happen. In fact, I would have to describe the opening as "precise chaos" - I don't know how many groups they were in (at least four), but each group clacked its fans at a different time. There was constant movement on the stage, worthy of an Iolanthe, and rather more active than the first one this Festival!

We've been seeing Harrogate references in a few of the shows at this Festival, so it'd be disappointing to not have at least some localization in Ko-Ko's little list. What we got was three completely rewritten verses, incorporating topical and local references, self-deprecation, and shout-outs to the Smiths and to the adjudicator. I'd have to call it a highlight of the show, though no doubt there'll be those who believe that any change is sacrilege. (But be careful next time; unrolling the List into the orchestra pit won't endear you to the hard-working players. Fortunately one of the chorus stepped in and caught it before it rolled off the edge!)

This production runs on the Rule of Funny, as a comic opera should. Ko-Ko (Philip Jennings) is of course the king of that (snapping his finger in a sword, retrieving the severed digit from the floor and reattaching it), but Nanki-Poo (Colin Belsey) and Pooh-Bah (David MacDonald) also put in their moments of madness. Many of the actual jokes were tried-and-true, but with some tweaks too; the three little maids (Rachel Warren, Liz Kelley, Alex Bird) leaning in on Nanki "in a month you're to be-be-be-be-be-be-be-be-be-be-be-beheaded" sounded like a glitching CD. The Mikado (Donald Stephenson) nearly stole a scene by flirting upstage with Pitti-Sing while his daughter-in-law elect rambled on about her physical attractiveness. Pish-Tush (Arthur Berwick) hardly needs to invent his own business, as Gilbert has provided him with plenty; all it takes is decent comedic timing and he's quite funny. But the funniest moment, I think, would have to have been from Katisha (Valerie Green), and this may have been completely accidental; the scream she gave (and, by the way, she demonstrated that scream several times) on discovering the name on the death certificate sounded as if the document was trying to self-destruct in her hands! In any case, it was a VERY solid scream.

Lighting had a few neat tricks to it. During "The Sun Whose Rays", we saw a shaft of sunlight for the first verse, and moonlight for the second. Katisha was greeted with a flood of red (which looks great live, but terrible on camera), and her "Hour of gladness" moment had the same red. But mainly, it was that unobvious supportive state - it takes a lot of work to be completely unnoticed, and for most of the show, that's what it was.

A well-sung and well-danced Mikado. I have seen many worse than this.

Glitter & Twisted Theatre Company: Savoy Ghosts

Savoy Ghosts, according to the programme and the schedule, is a celebration of all the operas that opened in the Savoy Theatre (not always for the first time; the Gilbert and Sullivans that first opened in the Opera Comique but were subsequently revived in the Savoy are included) up until around about the death of Sir Arthur Sullivan. The framing involves a fireman picking through the detritus after the fire that largely destroyed the theatre. That much we knew prior to this afternoon.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. To be honest, I went into this expecting it to be horrible. Really terrible. After all, it's a beautiful theatre, burned to the ground... a tragedy beyond words. But actually it was all done with very simple set, a few pieces that got moved around to different arrangements for the different songs, and nothing looked burnt out at all. The framing basically just got out the way to let the music take centre stage, and when you listen to the music they're singing, that's absolutely the right way to do it.

Music and costumes, I should say; because nearly every song involved a new costume. With just six performers, of whom normally two or three were singing any particular number, the costume changes had to be fairly snappy. Over a hundred years of the theatre's experiences compressed down to a single afternoon's entertainment; the songs were all from operas that opened there during the end of the 19th century, but the styles picked up elements from more modern techniques. It gave the appearance that the theatre was remembering, not just the staged performances, but the rehearsals and the comic skits as well.

The programme lists all of the musical numbers, including scene change pieces, saving the trouble of trying to remember them all afterward! As the explanatory box notes, every major work performed in the Savoy is represented, though a few of the most extremely obscure are represented unsung as, for instance, the entr'acte. The sung numbers interleave famous songs such as the Pirate King's introduction song and Three Little Maids with lesser-known Gilbert and Sullivan numbers like "Although of native maids the cream" from Utopia, and even-more-obscure pieces like Saida's magnificent "Ride on!" from The Beauty Stone - performed by a Wagnerian soprano lead, I think! The show closed with "Come away!" from Emerald Isle, leaving a haunting tone that perfectly captured the feeling of a burned-down theatre. (Was the fireman drawn away by the ghosts, never to be seen again?) When you think of "ghosts" and "Gilbert and Sullivan", you probably first think of Ruddigore, but a far FAR more powerful opening was achieved by playing the overture to Iolanthe quietly, with a whispered "Iolanthe" from one of the cloaked cast, every time the theme came up - including the elongated clarinet solo - and when the overture broke into "He loves", the singing began, and continued through the song rather than the overture.

Some of the songs were tweaked a bit; a couple were spoken rather than sung, and a few were sung by other voices than those originally written for them - but it worked. "River, river, little river" from Pirates works quite well as a lady's boating song. "Time was when Love and I were well acquainted" called on the original Patience plot theme of rival curates, becoming a duet of one-upping each other. "For thirty-five years" gained a bit of the Toccata & Fugue in D minor as its introduction. The more obscure pieces, however, were (by and large) left untouched. Members of the audience have probably heard the Pirate King song a dozen times or more, and can easily see a traditional staging of it, but one cannot simply pop around to the Opera House to see Rose of Persia, and there are some in this lineup that even die-hard Savoy Opera fans are unlikely to have seen - Jane Annie, The Lucky Star, Mirette, The Vicar of Bray - and anyone who's not one of those G&S nutcases has probably never even heard of them. So we got a taste of obscurity (that's like getting a taste of fame, only less so).

The show was played to a two-person orchestra: the musical director (Suzanne Barnes) on the piano, and also at one point taking up a flute, and Pam Smith on percussion. As mentioned above, though, the piano was an electronic, and smoothly switched over to being a pipe organ when this was deemed appropriate. An on-stage violin for "How fair, how modest" was the only other instrument utilized, unless you count some sound effects produced in the wings during the striptease version of "This helmet, I suppose"! And there were enough madrigals that the instruments (though not the musical director, who conducted) got something of a rest; when the voices are as good as these, accompaniment is at times superfluous.

I'd normally put together a run-down of the lead performers by character, but that doesn't really work here, so I'll start with the director and fireman and move on in random order from there. Simon Moss opens the show as an experienced fireman, looking around, then doubles as some of the ghosts, but keeps coming back to being a fireman. A believable character. His memories of school productions merge with his memories of the Savoy and with the Savoy's memories of the Savoy, to produce what we see here. Becky Feamley sang "Ride On" from The Beauty Stone, and with a number like that, would either be tremendously awesome or facepalmingly bad. As it turned out, the former. :) The other two Beauty Stone singers were Caroline Price and James Blofield, singing the "I would see a maid" duet, merged neatly with a similar song from Haddon Hall. It sounded lovely, though I would have liked to hear more of her words. But one can't have everything, and having those pieces dusted off is never a bad thing in my book. James dueted with Ralph Barnes as a pair of soldiers, setting up a rather neat Chekhov's Gun for the next number, in the form of a carved wooden soldier that gets broken in two and discarded by being thrown across the stage; the next song is from Princess Ida - "The world is but a broken toy". Brilliant! And last, but - cliches aside - most certainly not least, Catriona Pollard. Twice during the afternoon I scribbled down her name with two ticks. A beautiful voice, especially in the duet "Heights of Glantaun" from Emerald Isle, which is definitely a highlight of the show.

There's very little talking, and since music counts as action in something of this nature, I think we've come as close as we ever will to seeing an XKCD311-compliant performance at the G&S Festival. For those who came, it was a great afternoon's entertainment. For those who couldn't make it, all is not lost; the DVD should be available by tomorrow. I heartily recommend it; and based on what else I've seen of Glitter & Twisted (namely, Ruddy George from two years ago), I shall be watching with interest for future productions.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

G&S Opera Co: Iolanthe

The professionals are back! And with them they bring the results of many rehearsal hours. The standard at the Festival is much higher than what I'm used to at home; what I would call "excellent" or "superb" at home is the general level of "noteworthily good" here, and what I call "excellent" here is... well, I wouldn't have a term for it at home because I wouldn't see it often enough. Most notable in this is the precision of ensemble movements and diction; finishing the word "parliament" in perfect synchronization, or moving all the wands/crowns precisely together, requires a cast with no weak members AND hours of drilling. We saw both, tonight.

(I do wonder, though: How can Phyllis not notice that Strephon's consort wore wings? They were in full view. Hmm, perhaps that's one of the "good many things" that Iolanthe's fairyhood explains?)

The show starred and was directed by Simon Butteriss, whose Lord Chancellor exited the stage at every opportunity, presumably making the direction easier. His dutiful attendant page was not named in the programme. The Chancellor seldom entered alone; though the Page did get some time off, such as when Iolanthe declares herself to be a suppliant at the LC's feet, and he sighs with a look of "Oh, not another...", then dismisses his Page into the wings. The two work well (and closely) together; some of his long speeches (notably "Victory! Victory!") are delivered to his long-suffering aide. But the relationship is not all one-sided. At the end of the Nightmare Song, it's the chancellor who's on the floor and the page who's sitting on him, until the remark that he'd really like to trade 'position' with one of the two earls who, unsurprisingly, aren't being sat on at that moment! And those Earls Tollollerat (John Upperton and Bruce Graham, respectively) may not have had all that much in the way of brains (by Mountararat's admission), but that's hardly a downside to MPs - less to leave outside. The script tells us that Tolloller leads the House, but the staging definitely has both of them doing an excellent job of leading the chorus around; the exit after "Neath this blow, worse than stab of dagger" was swift and smooth, dignified and well stepped. And when it came to poking fun at a young man who goes about with a younger mother, well, they clearly lead the way! The chaos fills the stage until the Fairy Queen (Frances McCafferty) enters like the imposing Elinor, striding downstage calmly, parting the fight and subduing it. Some are born to rule; others acquire that right by having a whole chorus of immortal daughters, each wielding supernatural power. Yeah, I'd get out of her way too! Or if she calls, I'd go over fairly promptly, as did Private Willis (Alastair McCall). Plus, getting your own set of wings isn't bad (and it looks far beter than tuppence-worth of paper and string), not to mention the whole "helping a female in this dress" thing. Oh what a tangled web... the changes made to keep one erring fairy from being executed. I hope Iolanthe (Victoria Byron) appreciates the trouble her queen has gone to. Also the trouble her lighting crew have gone to; she enters first (covered in weeds) with a green follow spot, and then when she is pardoned, the spot changes color smoothly and without a hitch. To be sure, the show could have worked just fine without that; but it's an excellent effect that definitely adds its own little something! (Speaking of the spots, one of them followed Iolanthe like a good trackpoint as she was literally cast from the Chancellor's presence when he declared that Phyllis was his chosen bride. Fast movement, small spot.) She wished to live near her son Strephon (Simon Pontin), though presumably he grew up quite separately, for he had a strong accent that she did not. He and his beloved Phyllis (Charlotte Baptie) underwent a fairly significant change in the second act, from being rustic shepherds (even being a Ward in Chancery doesn't force a girl to dress like she's upper-class) to being "respectable" (being engaged to two noblemen at once does); in the first act, neither wears shoes, and then when they decide that they'll get married at once (and change their minds afterward), they divest themselves of such trivial annoyances and at first opportunity, return to their shepherding clothes. I foresee a long and happy future for them, raising sheep.

There are a million and one small neatnesses to the show that make it well worth watching, but are too numerous to list. All I can say is, there are two more performances tomorrow, and DVDs after that, so you can find out for yourself what the show's like. I won't say it's the best Iolanthe you've ever seen, in case it's not true, but it's certainly a solid production and it holds itself well.