Patience

Date 14th February 2024
Society Godalming Operatic Society
Venue Godalming Borough Hall
Type of Production G&S
Director Ian Henderson
Musical Director David Wright

Report

Author: Pauline Surrey

First produced in 1881, Patience was a huge success, with an opening run of 578 performances, the second longest after the Mikado.  It is an exceedingly witty piece, a satire of the aesthetic movement, which was the height of fashion among certain circles at that time, and a timeless chortle on the subject of fads, fashions, vanity and pretentiousness. It helps, though, to know something about the movement, one can thus get far more out of the extremely funny text and libretto. GOS did us proud here with a comprehensive glossary of terms in the programme. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, mediaevalism, and poets such as Oscar Wilde and Algernon Swinburne are all lampooned in this jolly work, along with romantic love, idealisation of rural simplicity, and military swank.

All the ladies of the town swoon over the poet Reginald Bunthorne. He’s not interested (though he likes the adoration) as he loves the innocent milkmaid Patience, who has never loved before. The Dragoons turn up, to whom the languid ladies had previously been engaged, and are nonplussed to find themselves spurned. Another poet Archibald Grosvenor appears on the scene, and chaos ensues.

Godalming Borough Hall is a great venue for the annual G and S delight, with a very friendly atmosphere, spacious bar, and tiered seating.

As always GOS provided a fine, well-designed and very informative programme. We were given a background article to the opera, a piece on the Aesthetic Movement, and one on the Royal Dragoon Guards. There were glossaries of terms used in one particular song (newly included in this production by GOS – and there was a piece on this too), and in the work in general, which were extremely useful. There was a synopsis; good cast and director profiles; an illustration of a set of 1925 Player’s cigarette cards depicting characters from Patience, and much much more – there was even a riddle!

Both lighting and sound were very effective throughout. Costumes and hair were marvellous. Bunthorne in his dark sage green knickerbocker velvet suit and cap, looked very much the romantic object of female adoration. The ladies wore loose ‘aesthetic dress’ gowns, with loose hair and flowery wreaths in their hair. Patience, in contrast, wore a very pretty country girl’s dress and bonnet. The Dragoons were splendid in their scarlet uniforms. The rival poet Archibald wore a matching outfit to Bunthorne’s, but in vivid red, and sported a marvellous long shiny head of hair. Bunthorne’s solicitor looked splendid in tailcoat, waistcoat, and bowler hat. Later in Act 2 Grosvenor reverted to being a normal young man in a suit and hat, and the ladies followed him in marvellous red and white dresses in the normal fashion of the day, with narrow waists, and pretty hats, with their hair neatly styled.

The proceedings were set against a backdrop of a castle on a hill, with a ruined abbey arch in the foreground. Props were amusing, with some of the languid ladies playing little lyres, and at one stage Jane ‘played’ a marvellous white cello. The poets of course had their notebooks and Patience her pail. Later the ladies suddenly all had tiny cymbals, and garlands of flowers and showers of petals appeared.

As ever Musical Director David Wright created a fine balance of sound from the excellent 25-piece orchestra, the soloists and the wonderful chorus.

This was a well-crafted production, full of energy and vim. Though energy and vim were not noted in the opening scene, as the languid lovesick maidens wafted about the stage, led by the ladies Angela (Katie Plummer) and Ella (Melanie Bright), and Saphir (Zoe Avern), some playing their lyres, others wringing their tears from their handkerchiefs singing the lilting ballad ‘Twenty lovesick maidens we’,  which is still going round in my head.

On came the down-to-earth diary-maid Patience, who wondered what all this mooning around was about: ‘Still brooding on their mad infatuation’, and realised with horror that she herself had no idea what love was. A fabulous performance from Rebecca Lucas-Coxon, not only did she act the part to perfection, and was in fine voice, but she also kept up her country accent charmingly throughout.

The doughty military men marched on and the Colonel (Richard Arthur) and Major (Lee Power) gave a fine rendering of the clever song: ‘If you want a receipt for that popular mystery’.

Finally we met the object of our lovesick maidens’ ardour – Bunthorne, this ‘melancholy literary man’, who seems intent on ignoring the ladies as he composes and eventually finishes his poem with a flourish. Joel Parkinson gave us a believable Bunthorne, youthful and glamorous, with his aesthetic poses and yearning poetry readings. The scene where he read his poem to the utterly confused and quite indifferent Patience, with rapturous reception by the maidens, which in turn caused horrified astonishment in the watching dragoons, who wondered whatever had come over their fiancées, was a scene of high comedy indeed, and once again the strong cast brought out every inch of it here.

And so this sparkling production bounded along – good pace; excellent comic timing; good attention to detail; great characterisation; a very good principal line-up, which was very well balanced – altogether an excellent production.

Poor Patience, quite confused at this idea of love, then met dear childhood friend Archibald Grosvenor, after a gap of 14 years. Archibald, this young man who had jumped on the Aesthetic bandwagon, acquired a red suit, cap and long locks he could flick about so fetchingly, was delightfully played by Alec Evans.

There were so many highlights, too many to mention all. The solo by the Duke (Tim Dutton): ‘Your maiden hearts, ah, do not steel’ with his exhortations to his fellow soldiers: ‘Sigh, all sigh!’ and ‘Kneel, all kneel!’, which were both ably executed by these plucky fellows. The solo by Lady Jane (Alexandra Lawrence), whilst she played her stylish white cello: ‘Sad is that woman’s lot’. The duet with Bunthorne and Lady Jane: ‘Say go to him and say to him’ was marvellous.  Finally the duet with Grosvenor and Bunthorne: ‘When I go out of door’. All so well-performed by the talented GOS cast, with fine accompaniment by the orchestra and the brilliant chorus.

Ian Henderson’s direction was superb, casting was excellent, the tableaux created with the languid maidens surrounding and fawning upon the two poets delighted our eyes, as did the absolute transformation once Grosvenor, and consequently also the ladies, had reverted back to normal citizens: ‘I’m a Waterloo House young man’. Such an amusing and jolly evening!