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Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore at Wilton’s Music Hall

It’s sometimes said of Bollywood movies that if you’ve seen one of them, you have, broadly speaking, seen all of them, as the narratives tend to be melodramatic, with song-and-dance routines that are, to be fair, quite the spectacle, and families that don’t exactly get along. You’d be forgiven for making a similar conclusion about Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas. I haven’t seen all fourteen of them, but the ones I have inhabit some very fanciful worlds that allow the audience to indulge in escapism. Absurdities are eventually explained away surprisingly logically. And then there are the ‘patter songs’, multi-verse tunes sung with almost ridiculous rapidity. These require very precise enunciation – which this cast of Ruddigore manages well. The problem here is more of unamplified voices projecting at different volumes, giving the show an uneven feel.

Madeline Robinson (Rose Maybud) in Ruddigore, photo by Mark Senior.
Madeline Robinson (Rose Maybud) in Ruddigore, photo by Mark Senior.

Let’s just say it’s not ideal when the first thing I wanted to do when I finally got back home (an all-out strike on the London Underground on press night meant much of the audience had longer than usual journeys) was look the libretto up to clarify a few things. Some excellent video projections (Tom Fitch) in the second half added an extra sparkle to proceedings, even if the storyline itself wasn’t all that spectacular to a discerning audience. Perhaps the multitude of productions of A Christmas Carol in recent years means there really is nothing novel about Victorian ghosts.

Contemporary references are almost crowbarred into the dialogue: Joe Winter’s Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, under pressure, for reasons explained in the narrative, to commit a bona fide crime once a day, decides to declare an outbreak of smallpox – for public health reasons (cough, cough) the townspeople are required to stay at home. But Sir Ruthven hosts a party that evening for all his friends (wink, wink). It’s beyond silly, of course, but it’s in keeping with the silliness of the original comedy. The show even gets a laugh out of a certain ex-royal.

I’m still not sure, however, what to make of the opening sequence, in which various guests, in the twenty-first century, complete with trainers and mobile phones, check in to a hotel which minutes later transpires to be the historic setting in which the main nineteenth-century storyline took place. Those guests are neither seen nor heard from again, and it seems odd not to have circled back to them at the end of the show to gauge their opinion on what they had presumably witnessed.

It’s not a show that requires much intellectual thought, but it is far from brainless – who is really who takes some working out, in a world where Peter Benedict’s Sir Despard Murgatroyd claims to be the younger brother of Sir Ruthven, despite being a generation older. It’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for Madeline Robinson’s Rose Maybud, the love interest of several men, some of whom have more than one identity. I liked watching Luca Kocsmárszky’s Mme Von Palmay’s reactions to what was happening – the on-stage violinist was, by definition, ever present.

The set was relatively sparse, with one scene looking much like another. The production seemed to lose a bit of momentum in the second half, but overall it was a pleasurable evening, even if it felt as though it needed to be staged on a larger scale to emphasise the sheer ridiculousness of the story.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

A family curse means a baronet must commit a crime every day or perish. In trying to escape his fate, he encounters dancing sailors, a bunch of frustrated bridesmaids and a chorus of ghosts. What could possibly go wrong?

In this innovative production, audiences should be prepared for plenty of laughs and spine-tingling moments. Those who are familiar with RUDDIGORE are also in for a few surprises, both visual and musical…

Joe Winter (Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd)
Kieran Parrott (Richard Dauntless)
Max Panks (Thomas)
Edward Watchman (Harry)
Peter Benedict (Sir Despard Murgatroyd)
Graham Stone (Old Adam Goodheart)
Madeline Robinson (Rose Maybud)
Charli Baptie (Mad Margaret)
Rosemary Ashe (Dame Hannah)
Ellie Sayles (Zorah)
Eleanor Monaghan (Mercy)
Rosie Weston (Ruth)
Steve Watts (Sir Roderic Murgatroyd)
Luca Kocsmárszky (Mme Von Palmay)

Director – Peter Benedict
Executive Producer – Fiona Evans
Musical Director – Tom Noyes
Musical Supervisor – Richard Baker
Choreographer – Adam Haigh
Designer – David Shields
Lighting Design – Alistair Lindsay
Overture Studio Sounds – Johannes Steinray
Sound Designer – Richard Carter
Stage Manager – Jack Evans
Matthew O’Connell – Assistant Stage Manager
Video – Tom Fitch
Portraits – William Haynes
Marketing and PR – Fiona Lockley

Oracle Productions presents
Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore
14th March to 25th March 2023

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