10th November 2017
Betchworth Operatic & Dramatic Society
Betchworth Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: Jon Fox
On a small stage at BODS, through the imagination of visionary director Alison Cooper, the company fully took us back to the age of elegance and aestheticism which was the subject of Gilbert's sparkling wit. We had long flowing ladies' robes in pastel shades, Wedgwood china, a chaise longue and a chain of ladies' handkerchiefs for Bunthorne to wear. There was also a library in Bunthorne's residence and some large houseplants in pots. The overall effect was of style and elegance.
Lady Angela and Lady Saphir, played respectively by Jane Seymour and Linda Slater led the sighing ladies to great effect as they sighed in hopeless love for the sham poet Reginald Bunthorne, a man inordinately fond of being admired, not least by himself. When the formidable Lady Jane pronounced to the other woeful ladies "fools and blind, the man loves, wildly loves!" it became clear that Bunthorne had set his sights upon Patience, the parlour maid and he wanted the ladies around purely for their adoration. Patience was admirably played by Jane Flanders, showing a most melodic soprano and much presence. The smaller role of Lady Ella was played with skill by Jane Khan.
In stark contrast to this "soppiness" came the distinctly earthy Dragoon Guards all in red and yellow uniforms and with impressive moustaches. Having been engaged to all the ladies only a year previously, the Dragoons were perplexed at how they had been "thrown over" for a mere poet. Sarah Esser-Haswell as Lady Jane pronounced, in richly disdainful tones, "Red and yellow! Primary colours. Oh South Kensington". Sarah was formidable as Jane both in tone and artistic substance and BODS are exceedingly fortunate to have such a titan of professional quality to cast in this vital role.
The three leading Dragoons were Lt. The Duke of Dunstable, Colonel Calverley and Major Murgatroyd, played by David Brown, Peter Grove and Peter Thomas in well bred tones. Peter Thomas as the Major gave a beautifully pitched rendition of "If you want a receipt ...." in clear and melodic tones. We had an interesting new song about toffee, which I had not previously heard, from the excellent David Brown as the Duke and Peter Grove handled the other patter song "When I first put this uniform on" with skill as Colonel Calverley. The three officers harrumphed at being rejected in humourous bewilderment. All are performers with decades of stage experience and how that showed!
The double chorus of ladies and dragoons was effectively done and I very much enjoyed David Longes portrayal of the fey Reginald Bunthorne in which he milked every opportunity for humour from this rewarding part. A clear, concise singing voice too, has David. The younger "more beautiful" Archibald Grosvenor was a fine foil, played with truth by Stuart Finlayson.
The two rival poets' scenes together were most effectively carried out and when Bunthorne prevailed upon Grosvenor to change character and become "everyday and commonplace" the joke was actually on Bunthorne, as the adoring ladies followed suit and became commonplace too, wearing some lovely colourful costumes to verify this change.
The Patience and Lady Angela duet "Long years ago" sung whilst sitting in the chaise-longue was tuneful and well done as Patience learned the true meaning of unselfish love. Angela's insistence that the "little" boy was nevertheless a boy and therefore of interest to Patience is one of Gilbert's mores striking songs, which I never tire of hearing.
Trevor Allen as Bunthorne's Solicitor, supervising the raffle, with Bunthorne as the prize, gave an amusing cameo in this non-speaking role
Ian Stone as the Musical Director and lone musician played piano with great dexterity and his great musicianship was evident. He had clearly rehearsed the company vocals assiduously and the sextet was of excellent quality.
Director Alison used her vast knowledge of stagecraft and of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas to mighty effect. Much humour throughout kept the story fresh and new, even to those of us who know it very well.
Lighting and sound, both operated by David Ames added much to the overall effect, and the set design by Alison and Brian Cooper I liked a lot, especially on such a small stage (which was, however, noticeably creaky and distracting at times!). In amdram, mainly because of cost , this is something those who perform for love learn to live with very often.
Margaret Longes choreography was simple but well done, and together with good quality costumes from The Costume Store, well fitted too in the main.
I left the theatre well satisfied with the fare provided and I heard several positive comments from others in the audience. Well done BODS!