Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, libretto by W S Gilbert
Theatre Royal, Newcastle
I am not, I have to confess, a devotee of G&S (although I have enjoyed their work much more since the dead hand of the D'Oyly Carte prompt book was lifted), so it was hardly surprising to me that, when Opera North announced that Ruddigore would be part of its spring programme, I realised that I had never seen it. What did come as a surprise was that there has not been a professional production of the operetta in this country since the Sadler's Wells centenary revival in 1987, and that this particular version, based on the 2000 edition by David Russell Hulme which restorted the work to the state its authors intended following many alterations in the 20s, has not been seen for 120 years!
Opera North's production premiered at the Leeds Grand on 30th January this year. It has since been seen only at The Lowry last week and will move to the Nottingham Theatre Royal next week.
The tenth of the collaborations between Gilbert and Sullivan, it followed The Mikado which proved a hard act to follow and was not received particularly well: some hissing was even heard as the curtain fell. The authors made changes and eventually the piece became part of the regular G&S repertoire, although never so popular as Mikado, Pirates, Pinafore and others.
It is, in fact, a thoroughly enjoyable piece and the music, particularly in the Ghost Scene of the second act, is deeper and more complex than Sullivan had written before. Gilbert's targets are the rules of etiquette, "jolly jack tars" and, in particular, Gothic melodrama, and he is precisely on target every time.
Director Jo Davies, one of a number of the creative team making their Opera North debuts, keeps the piece rattling along at a good pace, maintaining a traditional G&S feel to the performance whilst bringing in some clever ideas. The already mentioned Ghost Scene is a delight, beautifully designed by Richard Hudson and spookily lit by another Opera North debutante, Anna Watson, with a very effective contribution from illusionist Paul Kieve.
Davies sets the tone right from the off with a silent movie-like introduction during the overture which had the audience chuckling - and occasionally laughing out loud - even before the curtain went up. The irritatingly girlish chorus of professional bridesmaids, amusingly choreographed by yet another ON debutante Kay Shepherd, keeps up the momentum of the humour, joined soon by the even more irritating empty headed heroine Rose Maybud, played by Amy Freston (a wonderful Despina in last year's Così).
And when Mad Margaret (Heather Shipp) enters in a delicious send-up of Lucia di Lammermoor, she is pushing a pram! Cue lots of audience laughter before a note is sung.
There isn't a weak link in this production. It's great fun, excellently performed and sent the audience away laughing happily at the final absurd paradox which resolves all the previous problems - andf firmly fixed in my mind were the last lines of the patter trio not long before the end:
This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter
Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter!
After this, there can be no good reason for Ruddigore to be absent from the repertoire for so long.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan