Presented by South Australian Light Opera Society (aka SALOS)
Reviewed 9th August, 2018
This show is a genial celebration of Gilbert and Sullivan at their most gloriously camp. A buxom milkmaid, a brace of affected aesthetes, a posse of lovesick maidens and the 35th Dragoon Guards combine to entertain us with a soufflé-light satire on fashions in art and aesthetics. It may have been written in the late nineteenth century, but its universal topic makes it as much fun today as it was in 1881.
The South Australian Light Opera Society has an analogue policy, and it’s a delight to hear both voices and instruments unamplified. The lack of electronic enhancement allows material such as a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera to be heard largely in the way in which it was intended. Nine musicians were in an enclosure, stage left. Musical Director Danielle Ruggiero-Prior (who herself sang the role of “Patience” in 2009) conducts confidently and with excellent tempi, some of which her musicians adopted. Ruggiero-Prior shows sensitivity to the singers and a clear understanding of the piece, its genre and its tropes.
The women’s chorus opens the show with the famous Twenty lovesick maidens we. Although pleasantly sung, it demands of us a willing suspension of disbelief: only twelve maidens arrive. Long dresses in crushed velvet, coronets of artificial flowers on each head, and a job lot of cascading wavy wigs (assorted) clothe the maidens. There are many opportunities for this singing phalanx of femininity throughout the piece, and they sing consistently, coherently and very clearly.
The male chorus consists of the men of the 35th Heavy Dragoon Guards. It’s time the lads ran another recruitment drive. There are only seven of them – a Colonel, a Major, a Duke, and four Other Ranks. It means that their choral strength is a bit compromised, especially in Soldiers of our Queen, which has a bit of a Dad’s Army feel to it. However, their voices warm up as the show progress, and this outnumbered army gives a good account of themselves.
The two major male leads are Sean Nugent, who plays Reginald Bunthorne, and Greg Paterson, as Archibald Grosvenor. Nugent, in dove-grey velvet knickerbocker suit, frothy white lace collar and Doris Day wig, has everything visual going for him. His voice is clean and clear. However, Nugent’s acting is more introspective than his comic role requires; for example, Am I alone and unobserved?, which should have been a bravura piece, becomes a missed opportunity. In contrast, the angularly comical Greg Paterson fully understands his character; his every intention is clear. Paterson’s voice is also very good; his articulatory clarity only falters under pressure (in numbers such as A magnet hung in a hardware shop). One could add that having a nose reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s is also a great help.
In the title role of Patience, Kendall Geisler is splendid. She manages a consistent gentle West Country accent all night, sings like a dream, acts all the time (even when she’s not the one singing or speaking) and supports her fellow-performers constantly. As The Lady Angela, Katrin Treloar looks great, but her voice sounds frail and her acting is sporadic. Her best work is in the duet with Geisler, Long years ago. Claire Langsford (The Lady Ella) is, by contrast, in splendid voice (both spoken and sung), consistent and authentic in her acting work, showing fine comic timing and a dab hand at the cymbals. Jane Feast does The Lady Jane with outstanding flair, managing her contralto range beautifully, acting fearlessly and always injecting energy into any scene she is in, whilst never pulling focus. Her party piece, Sad is that woman’s lot, is the highlight of the show; Feast crafts her performance with care and clearly loves her work.
Of the three ranked officers, Colonel Calverley (John Wilson), Major Murgatroyd (Andrew Trestrail) and Lieut. The Duke of Dunstable (James Murphy), only Trestrail impresses. He has the least to do of the three, but his voice is excellent, his acting timing neat, and, despite a minor coughing fit, his personality shines through and entertains us. Wilson works bravely at the Colonel’s role, but his voice, neither clear nor strong, is rarely equal to the task. Much of the lyric of Soldiers of our Queen is lost, especially that delicious list of famous soldiers. Murphy’s vocal range wins him the Duke’s role, but sadly, he never seems at ease with his character.
Set design is effectively clear and uncluttered – a necessity in Tower Arts Centre. Stage area contains three flats with trees painted on them, a lakeside scene, backcloth a very small castle-like affair, the odd stone drama block and a tree stump. All very bucolic.
The balanced quality of the full ensemble’s choral sound is tribute to the combined skills of Musical Director Ruggiero-Prior and Director Maria Davis. Davis’s direction ensures that the entertainment quotient is at a constantly high level throughout the show; she understands G & S, and enables the whole cast to show their evident enjoyment of Gilbert’s rollicking text buoyed by Sullivan’s irresistibly memorable music. The Act 1 closer, with Bunthorne garlanded as a maypole, and ropes of flowers wielded by enthusiastic maidens, is satisfying, well-blocked entertainment, which uses the cast’s choreographic capabilities wisely and well. Director Davis has made smart directorial decisions based on the resources available to her and, as a reward, we get to enjoy this deliciously rich musical comedy of manners.
Review by Pat. H. Wilson
Venue: Tower Arts Theatre, Pasadena
Season: 9th – 19th August, 2018
Tickets: Full Price: $28 Concession: $25