Ruddigore at Wilton’s Music Hall

Sullivan

Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse – opera in two Acts to a libretto by William Schwenck Gilbert [sung in English to an arrangement by Martin Paterson]

Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd – Joe Winter
Richard Dauntless – Kieran Parrott
Thomas – Max Panks
Harry – Edward Watchman
Sir Despard Murgatroyd – Peter Benedict
Old Adam Goodheart – Graham Stone
Rose Maybud – Madeline Robinson
Mad Margaret – Charli Baptie
Dame Hannah – Rosemary Ashe
Zorah – Ellie Sayles
Mercy – Eleanor Monaghan
Ruth – Rosie Weston
Sir Roderic Murgatroyd – Steve Watts

Tom Noyes (keyboard & conductor)

Peter Benedict – Director
Adam Haigh – Choreographer
David Shields – Set & Costumes
Alistair Lindsay – Lighting
Richard Carter – Sound
Tom Fitch – Video


3 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 14 March, 2023
Venue: Wilton’s Music Hall, Grace’s Alley, London

In the canon of G&S operettas, Ruddigore (1887) is perhaps best known as the work which satirises nineteenth-century melodrama and gothic horror stories, and offended Victorian sensibilities by having a group of ancestral portraits come to life, a lady singing a duet with one of those ghosts, and to cap it all, a title that was unacceptably close to a swear word (especially in its original spelling, Ruddygore) leading to a fairly cool reception and posthumous reputation. The charmingly and deliberately preserved dilapidated state of the historic Wilton’s Music Hall is made for this operetta then, providing an eerily suitable ambience as Castle Ruddigore.

Peter Benedict’s production exploits that environment by framing the drama as taking place in a rundown Cornish hotel (Gilbert sets the work in that county) at which guests arriving in contemporary times are drugged on arrival by the complimentary glasses of wine they are given, spiked by the old housekeeper who turns out to be Dame Hannah. The guests then take part – like a murder mystery evening in costume – in the ensuing narrative, set in the Victoria era. Choreographically this is by no means a primly traditional realisation of the drama, however, but has captivating energy and humour throughout, thanks to Adam Haigh’s punchy scenarios on stage, even if there are some longueurs in Gilbert’s dialogue. Images of the Murgatroyd forebears are beamed into the frames for the scene in Act Two where they come alive, rather than stepping forth as real figures. But, amusingly, they are all different incarnations of Benedict, arrayed in the style of various eras, who plays Sir Despard, the younger brother or Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the baronet and heir to the ancestral curse which he has sought to escape by apparently disappearing. Several of those apparitions are dressed in costumes used by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company cast in the 1930s.

The singers here tend to come from backgrounds in plays and music theatre, so their vocal styles diverge somewhat from that of classical operatic technique, but in G&S that hardly matters, either when (as often) the music is half-spoken in any case, nor when it is clearly declaimed as it is here, on the whole. If Joe Winter starts a little flat as Robin Oakapple (Sir Ruthven in disguise) he falls into the groove subsequently and offers a fine, earnest performance. Though a touch reedy in voice, Kieran Parrott is a charismatic, dynamic presence on stage, true to his character’s name as Richard Dauntless, Sir Ruthven’s foster-brother who tries to wrest Rose Maybud away from him and marry her himself, leading an energetic hornpipe with his two fellow sailors, Max Panks’s Thomas and Edward Watchman’s Harry, as also in their spirited ensembles.

Madeline Robinson combines sharp wit and vocal charm as Rose, creating a lyrically sustained character at the centre of the performance. Benedict is a suitably droll Sir Despard, with a hint of sinister allure, and delivers a few updated jokes in the dialogue, such as when he realises that, as his brother Sir Ruthven has reappeared who can now assume the responsibilities of the curse in his place, and commit a daily crime, he exclaims with gleeful irony that he is now “just the Spare – I’m no longer the Heir”. (Elected politicians are also targeted, as Sir Ruthven later enumerates his crimes, one of which is to shut up the estate village when smallpox breaks out there, and he throws a party for his friends at the same time.)

Rosemary Ashe gives an account of Dame Hannah that is more effusive in the style of musical, whilst the ghost of Sir Roderic Murgatroyd is warmly embodied in Steve Watts’s singing, who recognises Hannah as his former love but refused to marry him on account of his fated destiny as a bad baronet. Charli Batpie plays Mad Margaret astutely, capturing her awkward demeanour without descending to insensitive caricature.

The reduced orchestration (presumably supplied as part of the score’s ‘arrangements’ by Martin Paterson of Pattersong Music) comprises the playing of four instrumentalists in the Hall itself – led by Tom Noyes’s irrepressible direction from an electronic keyboard – with a pre-recorded backing of fuller orchestral sections, projected through discreetly located amplifiers. The different dimensions between the chamber ensemble in the Hall and the larger orchestral backdrop jars a little, but the intimate assembly of the band in the real time and space of the Hall, to the side of the stage, works well in interaction with the singers, especially in ensembles such as the ‘It really doesn’t matter’ trio. In any case, here is a welcome opportunity to experience this ‘spooky’ operetta at this unique venue in London which makes up for any compromises that have to be made in mounting the work there.

Further performances to March 25

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