Charles Court Opera has in a short space of time become the acknowledged master of G&S in small spaces. So this short touring revival at Wilton’s of their version of the sixth Savoy Opera, ‘Patience’, was much anticipated by a packed and animated press night crowd. There was no disappointment: to spin the anti-hero’s refrain in a positive direction – ‘Crushed – again!
This is one of the most delicious and apposite of their collaborations – a satire on the face of it of the pretensions of the Aesthetic Movement that culminated in Oscar Wilde, but also quite capable – as here – of broadening its range to include all fads and fashions and the groupies thereof. The hallmarks of their mature style are in place – Gilbert’s sharp social satire, bracketed and soothed by the framework of Topsy-Turvey reversal of expectations; and the inventive suppleness of Sullivan’s music, whether discreet underscore to accommodate Gilbert’s verbal gymnastics or moments of wonderfully economical lyric grace and flirtatious invention to vary the mood.
So many productions of established classics nowadays seek to reinvent the whole either to showcase the director rather than the creators or to overcompensate for a lack of faith in the original. John Savournin’s approach here, as elsewhere, is a modest but triumphant reassertion of balance – allowing the tried and tested structure of the music and drama to come through with help from some tasteful and discreet updating. Costumes reflect but do not wholly remain in the Victorian era; the set – a pub interior – is essentially timeless; and the wit of the original dialogue and lyrics remains, overlaid with a topping of present-day references.
Beyond that, he trusts his highly talented team to perform with panache, supported by some excellent choreography that gives us continual visual interest, and most stylish piano playing from regular musical director, David Eaton. It is a real art to be able to recede into the background so that the words get across, while also painting a full palette of orchestral colour in the showier numbers.
Among the cast first, mention should go to the delightfully lugubrious trio of ‘melancholic maidens’, all devotees of the pretentious poet, Reginald Bunthorne. These were wonderfully detailed portrayals, musically crisp and with precise comic timing, most especially the work of Catrine Kirkman, as Lady Jane. Gilbert’s portrayal of women of a certain age can edge into cruelty at points, without careful portrayal, but this is an exquisite rendition. They were well matched by the trio of military men whom they had abandoned for the poet, and who reinvent themselves most amusingly as poets’ manqués.
In the title role, Catriona Hewitson was well on top of the sometimes-steep vocal demands and conveyed the right kind of daffy innocence that Gilbert was looking for – here presented as a barmaid rather than a milkmaid. Matthew Siveter played the unhappy narcissist Archibald Grosvenor, who attracts the fickle followers of Bunthorne. It is quite an ungrateful role, but he made the most of it, especially in his transformation into very contemporary version of ‘the common man.’
The indisposition of Matthew Kellett meant that Savournin himself had to jump in to play Bunthorne, which he did with huge success. Evoking the sly charm of Richard E Grant, with incisive vocal inflections and acting that never veered OTT, he precisely captured the flourish and cunning and indeed vulnerability of the character. Another example of superlative multi-tasking from this hugely talented performer, director, and writer.
At over two hours with interval, this show is one that could have dragged into the wrong hands; but at Wilton’s, a venue made for this show, it fizzed past and was cheered to the rafters once done. Do catch the remaining performances if you can, or any later revivals. It is a pity only five stars can be awarded…….
- Directed by John Savournin
- Lyrics & Music: W.S.Gilbert & A. Sullivan
- Cast includes: Dominic Bowe, Meriel Cunningham, Catriona Hewitson, Jennie Jacobs, Catrine Kirkman, David Menezes, Matthew Palmer, John Savournin, Matthew Siveter
- Wilton's Music Hall
- Until 26th August 2022
- 7.30 pm, 2 hrs 15 minutes, with interval
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