RUDDIGORE (or The Witch’s Curse) may not be one of the most popular of the Savoy Operas but, in the capable hands of director Claire Camble-Hutchins and her talented cast from Bournemouth’s Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic Society, it makes for a rousing night’s entertainment.
Musical director Keziah Jacombs and a small orchestra handle Sullivan’s extremely sophisticated score with aplomb. Crystal clear diction from the majority of the cast ensures the story can be easily followed through a libretto which is very amusing in places.
A parody of Victorian melodrama, Ruddigore has all the stock characters – sweet maids, a hero in disguise, trusty comedy sidekicks, ghosts and moustachioed Gothic villains in swirling capes (what else would they wear?). In an interesting twist, when the curtain goes up for Act II, many of the characters that were previously good have become evil and vice versa.
Sounds far-fetched but it’s all such good fun that it’s easy to go along with.
In a nutshell, the Baronets of Ruddigore are cursed to commit a crime every day or else die in unimaginable agony. The true heir to the title, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd has snuck off to the little fishing village of Rederring and avoided his fate by assuming the identity of a farmer. He leaves his younger brother Despard to inherit the curse so it is a challenge to feel sorry for him when he falls for the priggish and sickly-sweet Rosebud whose allegiances in love change with the wind. The uplifting Act I finale, Hail the Bride, sees Ruthven abandoned by Rosebud, exposed and forced to take up his rightful mantle. It’s a grand number with some beautiful acapella sections and lovely harmonies.
On to Ruddigore Castle. In a pivotal, show-stealing scene the portraits of the Murgatroyd ancestors spring to life and torment the new Baronet for failing to commit enough dastardly crimes (he has faked his tax returns, but everyone does that). Eventually Ruthven finds a way around the curse, is reunited with Rosebud and everyone is happy.
Ruthven is played with enthusiasm and charm by James Rosser. Ruth Mills is a delightful soprano and gives a good performance as Rosebud, a tricky and demanding role as the character is so relentlessly saccharin.
This show is made by the supporting characters whose experience and comic timing is apparent. The entrance of the duped evil Baronet Despard is eagerly anticipated (whenever his name is mentioned an ominous thunderclap ensues). It’s well worth the wait. Mark Everitt commands the stage with his smooth voice and is everything you’d want a villain to be.
Andrew Helson, as sailor Richard Dauntless, Ruthven’s girlfriend-stealing best friend, not only sends up many a nautical stereotype but also dances an impressive Hornpipe.
The ever popular Robin Lavies, a seasoned comic performer, perfectly characterises Old Adam Goodheart, Ruthven’s faithful servant.
A highlight is the duet between Dame Hannah (Amanda King) and Sir Roderic (Mike Griffiths), the ghost of a Murgatroyd ancestor. There Grew a Little Flower is the one sincere moment shared between lovers. It was accompanied by a graceful solo dance routine, a brave decision by the director which paid off.
The star turn was undoubtedly Roseanna Bowen as Mad Margaret. She has wonderful comic timing and physicality throughout; her voice is a rich, sensual mezzo.
Special mention for the chorus of “professional” bridesmaids.
On opening night the production was attended by an appreciative, mature audience. It’s a shame there were not many younger people as this piece transcends generations. I’d recommend taking the kids along as Ruddigore has strong pantomime elements (it’s hard to resist booing the villains) and I think they’d love it.
It continues until Saturday 24th October, with a matinee and evening performance.
Photographs taken on location at The National Trust – Kingston Lacy, with kind permission from the National Trust, by Adrian King Photography.