Opera North is developing an honourable record in doing fine Gilbert and Sullivan productions and they have come up with a very funny Trial by Jury as part of their ‘Little Greats’ season. Pairing it with a very dark Cavalleria Rusticana was a strange choice but the stark contrast didn’t seem too much on the night. It is only 45 minutes long but so much action is packed into that short time by director John Savournin that it offered an entertainment of real pleasure even though he could find no way to disguise the weak ending – we have to blame W S Gilbert for that.
The overture plays behind a very clever scene-setting introduction. We wait outside the court where a Hedda Hopper type reporter, a brilliant cameo by Amy J Payne, is surrounded by photographers and anticipating the arrival of Angelina, a movie starlet who is The Plaintiff in a breach of promise case. Edwin, the cad who has promised to marry her and then changed his mind, arrives to general scorn – no-one has warned the jury about making up their minds before hearing the evidence! Angelina arrives surrounded by her bridesmaids and proceeds to flirt with everyone in sight in order to arouse their sympathy – and win an enormous sum in damages. The judge arrives and tells the court the story of his disreputable rise to high judicial office. The case then proceeds with little sense of legal due process until, at the end, the judge finds a most unorthodox way of resolving the dispute.
All this nonsense is redeemed by the exuberance of the witty words and the lively music. It is early G&S and the biting satire that marked their later hits is here very muted – the legal profession comes off very lightly. The singers are all fine, without anyone giving a show stopping turn. Amy Freston looks just right as Angelina and does her number on the jurors with charm. Nicholas Watts as Edwin does a fine Wooster-ish job of combining being a cad with looking lost. Jeremy Peaker as the Learned Judge sings his big number with panache but turns the judge into a bit of a buffoon, not helped by a disappearing moustache on the opening night. The sets are very clever and very mobile and the action never lags.
The Opera North Chorus are clearly having a great time and conductor Oliver Rundell sometimes seems to have trouble getting them to hold back a little to let the principals get their words across. But the overall impression is of wit, charm, and sparkling music. What’s not to like?