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Ruddigore

2 November 2018

Forlorn Forbears and Dastardly Deeds

Ruddigore

by W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan

Hounslow Light Opera Company at Hampton Hill Theatre until 3rd November

Review by Didie Bucknall

It is an ambitious venture to stage any Gilbert and Sullivan operetta at the Hampton Hill Theatre, but in tribute to their late, great and much loved President, Chair and long-standing member Peter King, the Hounslow Light Opera Company decided to put on Peter’s favourite G&S, the less familiar, zany Ruddigore. They gave a delightful and spirited performance to a packed and appreciative audience.

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The auditorium lights dimmed, the conductor Isabella Stocchetti raised her baton, there was a drum roll – but where was the orchestra? There is no orchestra pit in the theatre, yet we had the full orchestral gamut, strings, brass, woodwind, timpani – a brilliant virtuoso performance throughout arranged by musical director Lee Dewsnap playing his Yamaha EL-900 electronic organ.

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The curtain rises to an excellent backdrop of a harbour scene and the professional bridesmaids appear, bewailing the lack of weddings in the town as they are unable to perform their duties. The only possible candidates are Rose Maybud, Dame Hannah and, the extremely mad, Mad Margaret wildly played by Felicity Morgan who is driven to madness by her love of Sir Despard. Dame Hannah (Clare Henderson Roe), has taken a vow never to marry, as her love, Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, inherited the curse of Ruddigore, and so was doomed to commit a foul crime each day or die in agony. He failed and took the consequences.

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Rose is in love with our hero, Robin Oakapple, but according to her trusty guide book of etiquette, she must not make the first move, one which Robin is too bashful to make. The two, played by Johanna-Marie D’Oyly Chambers and Paul Huggins, have a touching duet in which they express their love by pretending that they are asking advice on behalf of lovelorn friends. The scene is enlivened by the shenanigans of Old Adam, a hugely enjoyable comic performance by Edz Barrett.

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More excitement, a ship has come in and jaunty sailor Dick Dauntless (Tony Cotterell) is in town. He dances a very energetic hornpipe while smoking his pipe and singing – astonishingly – how does he do this without running out of breath? The very professional choreography was devised and arranged by ex-ballerina Karen Munday with the help of star Swan Award winner Fay Ellingham.

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Dick promises to help his half-brother Robin to win Rose Maybud’s hand in marriage, but inevitably Dick falls for the girl himself. Robin, who is too nice to admonish him for stealing his intended, broken-heartedly sings a song seemingly praising Dick, but full of back-handed compliments. Nevertheless Rose and Dick are betrothed. The bridesmaids are delighted. The village folk are excited. Dick caps it all by dealing his rival a deadly blow – he announces that Robin is none other than Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd doomed like his forbears to commit fouls deeds or die.

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The presumptive holder of that title Sir Despard Murgatroyd, enters, chillingly played by Geoffrey Farrar in evening dress and swirling black crimson-lined cloak. Relieved of the onerous task of his Baronial duties, he passes the cloak of doom on to poor Robin in his rightful role of Sir Ruthven.

A G&S operetta needs a large cast of singers to swell the sound and with a small stage this is not possible. Ingeniously, extra members, ex-members, friends and members of other groups were gathered together forming extra backup from the galleries on either side of the auditorium, the elegant bachelors in natty attire even sporting bowler hats on occasion.

Scene Two opens on the interior of the Ruddigore castle hung with portraits of former Baronets of Ruddigore. A great set – congratulations to Wesley Henderson Roe who was also the excellent performance director.

Robin, aka Sir Ruthven has spectacularly failed to commit any worthwhile crimes. His forbears emerge from their portraits to show him the horrific consequences of his failure.

Dick and Rose arrive with their wedding party to get poor Robin’s blessing, Dick’s pipe has been getting longer throughout the performance as has the feather duster of Old Adam whose stair climbing performance was a sight to see. Old Adam is sent by Robin to capture a lady from the village – “any lady”. He comes back with Dame Hannah. Steve Taylor who sang and acted well as Sir Roderic, the last in line to the title, recognises her to be his little nannickins!

Robin has come up with a way of breaking the curse: all will not be lost. As it is a crime to commit suicide none of the ancestors should have died and the curse is lifted. Sir Roderic and Dame Hannah can be together at last.

Rose drops her sailor lover and marries Robin and everyone lives happily ever after….or do they? Mad Margaret now respectably married to Sir Despard entwines herself around her husband but shows no inward sign of sanity….does the curse of Ruddigore live on?

As with all performances of G&S, professional and amateur alike, the difficulty for the chorus is to get the amusing words of the libretto clearly across to the audience.  That said, HLOC did Peter King’s memory proud. The huge number of songs, the quality of the acting, singing and dancing, the lighting, sound and wardrobe were all a great tribute to him.

Didie Bucknall
November 2018

Photography by John Malone

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From → Musicals, Reviews

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