Haddon Hall

Date 12th June 2014
Society Matlock G & S Society
Venue The Medway Community Centre, Bakewell
Type of Production Musical
Director Max Taylor
Musical Director Melanie Gilbert


Author: Joyce Handbury

I feel that I must give a very short outline of the piece because it is so rarely performed and consequently very few people are aware of it at all. ‘Haddon Hall’ is a light opera with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by Sydney Grundy (a collaboration that followed the disbanding of the partnership of Gilbert & Sullivan but only resulted in this one opera). It is a dramatisation of the sixteenth century legend surrounding the elopement of Dorothy Vernon with John Manners, son of Thomas Manners the 1st. Earl of Rutland but Grundy resets it in the seventeenth century adding the conflict between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads as a backdrop to the storyline. Sir George Vernon, a royalist, fears that because King Charles II has fled to France and the Parliamentarians are seizing Royalist estates, to safeguard the future of Haddon Hall he wants his daughter to marry his cousin Rupert Vernon, a Puritan. Dorothy is in love with John Manners, an active Cavalier, and elopes with him to France. Rupert acquires a writ and gains possession of Haddon Hall but when King Charles returns to the throne, John Manners returns with a warrant from the King restoring the Hall to George Vernon. He brings forward his bride Dorothy and their two children, who begs for forgiveness from her father, and so it all ends happily! Max Taylor, the director, has reworked the script and produced a score from a 1992 adaptation by David Eden and Martin Yates. It has taken him every spare minute for a year to do this and to further adapt it for a small society and an extremely small performance area. Indeed, a true labour of love! In front of a simplistic set depicting the stone walls of Haddon Hall, the shows opens with a very happy and lively number with nice choreography including an innovative routine using ribbons. Max, as well as directing and borne out of nececessity, takes on the two roles of Sir George Vernon and Oswald, a friend of John Manners. He does great justice to both characters his powerful singing voice coming to the fore when he vents his anger on his daughter Dorothy, and the little comic nuances he adds to Oswald’s character were lovely. Liz McKenzie was truly elegant as befits the role of Lady Vernon and Susan Deveney brought delightful humour to the role of Dorcas, her maid. Helen Booker was superb as Dorothy Vernon coping effortlessly with the difficult solos and Andrew Moore was great as John Manners who first appears as a Pedlar (referring to himself as a “premature Tesco”) later returning as himself, a Cavalier, accompanied by Dorothy and his daughters who, incidentally, were so scrumptiously played by his own daughters, Elissa and Lucia Moore. How proud he must have been!  Nic Wilson was brilliant as Rupert, his facial expressions and his mastery at ‘telling a story’ are truly outstanding and as for his merry band of Purtians, (Neil Jury, Angela Robinson, David Stokes and Ken Watson) well, they were just so funny! Down from Scotland is a Puritan from the Isle of Rum, supposedly to help support Rupert. Chris Hannant as The McCrankie, in full Scottish regalia, complete with bagpipes gave a very commendable performance. The singing from all the soloists, small groups and the full chorus was excellent and I certainly agree with Musical Director, Melanie Gilbert, when she states that “the music is beautiful and complex as ever and the elopement/storm scene in Act 2 is a masterpiece of dramatic and descriptive music”. However, that being so, you still need an adept and accomplished orchestra to achieve the desired effect and this it most certainly did - it was a joy to listen to the wonderful music being so beautifully played. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece especially as it had such a local connection. This society does so well to produce excellent shows with such limited facilities. Congratulations to everyone involved and oh, I almost forgot to mention the lovely costumes, some good lighting effects and a fabulous, big black wig!!