Review: Harrogate International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, Charles Court Opera

Ruddigore, Royal Hall, Harrogate, Friday, August 16, 2019

DUBBED ‘the masters of Gilbert and Sullivan in small places” Charles Court Opera’s unique “boutique” productions work just as well in the spacious 900 seater Royal Hall as in a cosy room above a pub like Islington’s King’s Head Theatre - effectively the company’s base. CCO productions allot the chorus parts to the principal characters who, on the evidence of this wickedly funny Ruddigore, obviously relish working their socks off.

The setting, represented by an elegant seaside promenade shelter centre stage, is a quaint Cornish fishing village. There, the Baronet of Ruddigore is cursed to commit a crime every day, or face the wrath of his ghostly ancestors.

CCO’s fast moving production is directed by John Savournin who has taken 1950s Hammer horror movies as his inspiration. Somehow, the intermittent menacing rumbles of thunder and eerie lighting underline the Hammer connection. The concept works brilliantly, particularly with such a talented cast. John brings his imposing presence and fruity baritone voice to the dual central roles of Robin Oakapple, a shy young farmer who is actually Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, a wicked Baronet of Ruddigore. The wonderful Simon Butteriss - and this really is luxury casting - plays both the sinister Sir Despard Murgatroyd and the Ghost of Sir Roderick, whose spooky portrait comes to life. Joanna Marie Skillet is bright and pure of tone as the demure village maiden Rose Maybud, inseparable from her little book of etiquette which ultimately saves her from Philip Lee’s horn pipe-dancing lothario Richard Dauntless. Catrin Kirkman’s finely nuanced Mad Margaret combines otherworldly serenity with paroxysms of excitement. Only repetition of the word “Basingstoke” calms her.

Charles Court Opera’s style is tongue in cheek and all the more entertaining for that. The National Festival Orchestra, conducted by David Eaton, deliver a scintillating performance of Sullivan’s oddly underrated musical score.

Geoffrey Mogridge