Opera della Luna, under the direction of Jeff Clarke, has built a well-deserved reputation for staging inventive productions of ‘forgotten’ musical works of the last 150 or so years.
Running at Wilton’s until 4th September is the company’s latest offering, a double bill of CURTAIN RAISERS, short works that were often played before the main piece in Victorian and Edwardian theatres, until WW1. Both are some of the best works of their type, tuneful, lightweight and great fun!
Offenbach’s twenty-five-minute “bouffonnerie musicale” The Two Blind Beggars (Le Deux Aveugles) was written for his Theatre des Bouffes-Parisiens in 1855 and concerns two supposedly blind beggars who turn up at the same pitch on a very windy bridge over the Seine. Giraffier, a superb portrayal by Paul Featherstone, accompanies himself on a mandolin – in this production a ukulele – whilst Patachon plays the trombone, which Tim Walton actually did (loudly!), to much amusement. In 1855, the show became the “must-see” of the Paris season and helped launch Offenbach both as a composer and as a manager, even if, in truth, there is only one number that is memorable, and that so much so that one finds oneself singing it for hours afterwards…
The other actor in the piece plays all the passers-by: in this production hilariously so by Carl Sanderson, who says barely a word, but appears in a multitude of superb costumes.
The minimalist set design, showing Notre Dame, was the work of Elroy Ashmore, an ideal backdrop for this piece of frivolity which wears its years well! Highly recommended.
Preceding this is Cox and Box, a “musical triumviretta” by F C Burnand, based on Maddison Morton’s farce Box and Cox, and Sullivan was supposedly inspired to compose the music for it by seeing a performance in London of The Two Blind Beggars. Running for 60 minutes, it was first staged at the Adelphi Theatre in 1867, and later at “German Reed’s Gallery of Illustration” which only staged “refined” entertainment, suitable for families! It tells the tale of a rascally ex-military landlord, Bouncer – sung very loudly by Carl Sanderson – who rents a room by day to Box who works at night, and by night to Cox who works during the day. As early as this first ‘operetta’ Sullivan is already pastiching other composers, in this case, Donizetti, Verdi et al, in the recurrent RATAPLAN motif, which Bouncer sings whenever there are disagreements brewing. Problems arise when Cox is unexpectedly given a day’s holiday… Cox is delightfully and wittily played by Tim Walton, who not only has a gorgeous high baritone, but is also able to act and extract as much fun as possible from the, at times, rather dated libretto.
Box, Paul Featherstone, was hampered by a silly black wig, which not only looked false from his first entrance, it also refused to behave, becoming unglued and moving around his head, without actually falling off. I am convinced that this was unintentional, but was in fact very funny, and should be kept in! One could not but help watch the wig, even when concentration should have been elsewhere.
All three actors found the split level stage at Wilton’s difficult to use and one got tired of seeing them continually climbing steps from one level to the next – Les deux Aveugles just used the upper level so the problem did not arise – but, on the whole, this was a hugely successful and most enjoyable evening.
Mention must be made of Jacob Savage at the piano, and John Cuthbert at the, presumably electric blown, harmonium.
Strongly recommended – especially if you have never been to Wilton’s Music Hall! Or have never seen Opera della Luna.
Review by John Groves
Presented by Opera della Luna
Opera della Luna return to Wilton’s with a brand new production: a double bill of two short operettas by Arthur Sullivan and Offenbach.
Cox and Box was Sullivan’s first stage success, and predates his collaboration with Gilbert. It tells the farcical tale of an unscrupulous landlord who rents out the same room to two tenants – Cox, who works by day, and Box who works by night. The ruse works until one day, Cox is given the day off and they meet much to the horror of the landlord, Sergeant Bouncer. This little short operetta was a huge hit and its title has now passed into common parlance.
Les Deux Aveugles, the story of two separate con-men who are both pretending to be blind beggars and arrive one day at the same patch on a Parisian bridge, was similarly Offenbach’s first major success. Although it only lasts 25 minutes, it made the composer enough money to build his first theatre, the Bouffes Parisiens.
The two operettas are performed in one sitting.
Running time: 90 minutes, plus a 20 minute interval