Review: Harrogate International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival

Ruddigore, Royal Hall, Harrogate, Saturday, August 11, 2018

THE 25th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival will host 40 fully staged productions at the Royal Hall and Harrogate Theatre. Performers range from university G&S groups and venerable amateur operatic societies to the acclaimed National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company.

But there’s much more to the Festival’s packed programme: G&S specialists from around the world will speak on the lives and times of the legendary partnership at a multitude of performance events in the specially themed Utopia Pavilion, next door to the Royal Hall.

Ruddigore is the first of the National G&S Company’s six brand new productions. Director Vivian Coates’ 1920s flappers-era setting creates beautifully choreographed stage pictures, but he dilutes the intoxicating sense of Victorian Gothic melodrama.

An exciting young company demonstrates the Festival organisers’ flair for spotting promising graduates from the conservatoires and casting them alongside seasoned performers. Bradley Travis as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd and Matthew Siveter as Sir Despard Murgatroyd deliver agile and funny characterisations. Both excellent young artists are models of clarity in the patter songs.

David Menezes is a honey toned Richard Dauntless - the lothario sailor leads the nimble company in a nifty hornpipe. Silvery voiced Rosanna Harris is crystal clear as the hilariously prim Rose Maybud. Mae Heydorn’s tragically unhinged Mad Margaret is breathtaking in her scene and aria Cheerily Carols the Lark. This is Sullivan’s brilliant parody of the ‘Mad’ scene from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

Stephen Godward as the faithful Old Adam Goodheart, Stephen Page - barking his orders as terrifying spectral Great War officer Sir Roderic Murgatroyd - and Gaynor Keeble as the stentorian Dame Hannah complete a superbly blended set of principals. Roderic and Hannah’s sentimental ballad, There Grew a Little Flower, will melt hearts of stone.

WS Gilbert’s patchy libretto for the second act of Ruddigore gives the impression that he was beginning to lose the plot. Sullivan’s musical score is, however, both inventive and utterly beguiling. Youthful conducting talent James Hendry brings out the lyricism and the sinister nuances in Sullivan’s brilliant orchestration. Hendry’s pacing is absolutely spot on, the chorus singing is incisive and the National G&S Orchestra of 24 musicians play like angels.

Harrogate International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival continues until August 27th. Enjoy!

Geoffrey Mogridge