Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience first saw the light of day at London’s Opera Comique on 23rd April, 1881 (moving to Richard D’Oyle Carte’s newly-constructed Savoy Theatre on 10th October that same year) and was their follow-up to the immensely successful Pirates of Penzance of the previous year, and would be followed by Iolanthe in 1882.
I say it saw the light of day, though in truth things were rather more ground-breaking as, due to D’Oyle Carte’s decision to make The Savoy Theatre the first public building anywhere in the world to be lit entirely by electricity, Patience became the first show also to be so lit.
By a happy coincidence there were sparks of electricity all round at The Kings Head this evening where Charles Court Opera have just opened their new slimmed-down production of the show, though happily from they came from the magnificent cast, not the lighting.
Patience has often proved a difficult show to update, dealing as it does with the aesthetic movement of the latter half of the nineteenth century, but I’m very glad to say that under John Savournin’s fluid and sound directorial hand this is one updating which doesn’t just work, but thrives.
Everything that you’d expect from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is still here, though Castle Bunthorne now becomes the friendly local pub, The Castle, behind whose bar stands not the milk-maid of the original, but Patience the barmaid (Joanna Marie Skillett, in fine voice, maidenly and clear as a bell).
The real stroke of genius of this production however is in making Bunthorne (David Phipps-Davis as a sort of ponytailed middle-period Meatloaf) a Goth poet, and one followed to distraction by his unholy cadre of Gothettes (Helen Evora as Lady Angela, Amy J Payne as Lady Jane, and Andrea Tweedale as Lady Saphir), and in the cast playing tonight, Henry Manning as his rival for the ladies’ affection, Grosvenor Giles Davies, Michael Kerry, and David Menezes as Colonel Calverley, Major Murgatroyd, and Lieutenant The Duke of Dunstable respectively provide The Dragoon Guards.
The story, like most G and S’s isn’t hard to follow. The dragoon guards are miffed that the ladies who they were to be betrothed to have swapped allegiance to now follow aesthetic poet – or in this case Goth – Bunthorne.
Bunthorne, in turn, is actually in love with the beautiful Patience, however she doesn’t love him, her heart being taken by old childhood love and now idyllic poet the tall and dashing, though self-centred, Grosvenor.
Needless to say through various twists and turns everybody ends up with the person they most deserve, except poor Bunthorne.
Patience doesn’t have as many of the stand-alone ‘sing-along’ numbers as either Pirates before it, or Iolanthe after, but in the confined space of the Kings Head it has never sounded better.
I remember back in 1994 one of the bods high up at the BBC went to see La Traviata at The Royal Opera House, and was so impressed that he cleared the BBC 2 schedules, and broadcast it live nationwide to bring culture to the masses.
I really do wish that our national broadcaster still had the cajones – maybe on one of the more ‘arty’ channels like BBC 3, or BBC 4 – to occasionally come to a place like The Kings Head and broadcast to the nation something as entertaining as this. Bunthorne may be ‘Crushed Again’, but Patience has never been funnier.