Merrie England

Date 14th June 2012
Society Matlock G & S Society
Venue Medway Community Centre, Bakewell
Type of Production Light Opera
Director Nic Wilson
Musical Director Melanie Gilbert


Author: Joyce Handbury

What better way to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee than with a performance of Merrie England the plot of which gives a fictional glimpse into the time of the first Queen Elizabeth but many of the characters and relationships are based on real people. The story tells of the rivalry between  The Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh for the affections of the Queen but unbeknown to Essex, Sir Walter secretly loves her Maid of Honour Bessie Throckmorton. The action takes place around 1589 on May Day and the May Queen decides that a witch hunt would be a suitable addition to the celebrations. The original piece by composer Edward German and librettist Basil Hood was deemed to be too long and with twenty five principals and a full orchestra Max Taylor set about the task of making it more relevant and more accessible for a small society to perform and decided on a chamber-like approach to the sound with just eight musicians. Max also took on the role of Sir Walter Raleigh and what an outstanding performance he gave as did Lesley Kraushaar as Bessie Throckmorton and Nic Wilson as the Earl of Essex all three were excellent in their respective roles. The May Queen was splendidly played by Helen Booker and the love of her life Walter Wilkins, a Shakespearean actor, was gloriously portrayed by Chris Kraushaar who squeezed every ounce of comedy out of the role and his A - Z rendition of Romeo and Juliet was superb. Queen Elizabeth was majestically played by Liz McKenzie and I loved Wendy Costigan as Jill-all-alone her delivery was gentle and so natural and her voice suited the part perfectly and sitting in her arms was an all-moving, all-purring white cat - a definite scene stealer! David Stokes as Long Tom and Richard Simmonds as Big Ben gave fine performances as the Royal Foresters. Not to be outdone the excellent singing and acting of the Townsfolk of Windsor added that extra dimension to the whole performance as did the first rate orchestra. The costumes were truly magnificent and the finale to the reprise of ‘Long Live Elizabeth’ was a rousing end to what had been a superb show and all performed in the smallest of spaces and when the Queen made her final entrance in all her regal splendour it was really quite moving. Congratulations to all and especially to Nic, Melanie and Max and the icing on the cake is that the society are honoured to have been asked to perform it (twice) at the International G&S Festival at Buxton at the end of July as part of their opening weekend celebration of the Jubilee.