sun 19/11/2017

Ruddigore, Opera North | reviews, news & interviews

Ruddigore, Opera North

Ruddigore, Opera North

A slick, witty but affecting Gilbert and Sullivan revival

Grant Doyle's Sir Ruthven, under attack from his ancestorsRobert Workman

Revived with almost indecent haste, Jo Davies’s 2010 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore now feels even more polished and slick. Slickness is not a derogatory term here; this staging hits the spot in pretty much every way – musically, dramatically and visually.

Davies’s shrewdest move is to shift Gilbert’s creaky satire on the excesses of Victorian melodrama forward to the 1920s, a period now more closely associated with the genre – think silent cinema, big moustaches and shiny top hats. There are also several nice nods to 1930s horror films, and a witty sequence of scratchy slides shown just before the curtain rises. These give us the operetta’s back story – that of the cursed line of Murgatroyd baronets, each successive title holder condemned to commit a serious crime each day or face an agonising death. Structurally it’s an unbalanced work – Act I is overlong and too discursive, followed by a tighter second half which concludes nonsensically and a little too abruptly. The plot is full of holes. But it’s still very, very funny – watch this Ruddigore as a series of brilliant set pieces and you’ll leave the theatre immensely satisfied.  

Davies’s teasing hints of the drama to come are so delicious that there’s a rather long wait before the action really kicks off – at the point where the villainous Sir Despard (a superb Richard Burkhard) makes his dastardly entrance through a Punch and Judy tent. His elder brother Ruthven, having faked his own death and now living quietly under an assumed name, is unmasked, leading to a beautifully choreographed wedding scene where he is suddenly forced to take on the cape, the cane and the top hat, abandoning his bride to be for a life of crime. Grant Doyle is a joy as the imposter, best of all in his scenes with his foster brother Dick Dauntless – especially during an extended sequence where he wins the attention of village sweetheart Rose Maybud by describing what Dick might really have been getting up to whilst at sea. Dick’s entrance leads to a nicely choreographed re-enactment of a French naval battle played out by flag-waving bridesmaids (pictured above right). It’s marvellous to watch, and Hal Cazalet is as agile vocally as he is with his feet. Amy Freston as Rose convinces as a woman vainly trying to lead her life according to the advice contained in an etiquette manual, subtly unbuttoning and loosening up before our eyes.

Act II’s technical challenges are surmounted with ease - notably the moment where the Murgatroyd portraits descend from their picture frames to harass Sir Ruthven, too mild-mannered to commit atrocities more serious than forging cheques. Richard Stilgoe has provided yet more updated lyrics – mentioning phone hacking, Greek debt and Sally Bercow. It’s gorgeously lit by Anna Watson – I’ve rarely seen outdoor skies look so natural. And it’s conducted by the remarkable, precocious John Wilson, lifting every rhythm and pacing each patter song to perfection. Bad Gilbert and Sullivan productions are pure torture. This one is lavish, affectionate and witty.

  • Ruddigore at the Grand Theatre Leeds until 27 October, then on tour to Nottingham, Newcastle, Salford and London until 26 November

Watch the trailer for Ruddigore


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