Date 15th November 2013
Society Winchester Musicals & Opera Society
Venue Theatre Royal, Winchester
Type of Production Operetta
Director David Tatnall
Musical Director Marcus Reeves


Author: Stuart Ardern

David Tatnall’s production was laugh-out-loud funny.  There was a subversiveness about the humour that went really well with the piece and appeared in all sorts of unexpected places.  It was a delight to see that on her first entrance as Lady Jane, during “Twenty lovesick maidens we”, Katie Hickson was counting the singers (and concluded that there were fourteen).  Then there was the attention drawn to Gilbert’s strained rhymes in “If Saphir I choose to marry”.  There were plenty of visual jokes too.  In their quest to attain aesthetic perfection, several of the infatuated maidens spent the opening scene working on paintings; revealed at the end of the opening song, these turned out to be all studies of Bunthorne (including an artistic nude).  When Patience, the milkmaid, entered, she was followed by a pantomime cow (which she milked during her first song).

The soldiers were a suitably unimaginative lot, led by Peter Barber as the Colonel, and with Dan Hickson exercising his delightful tenor as Lieutenant the Duke of Dunstable.  When the Colonel, Duke and Major (Mike Palette) tried their hand at posing as members of the Aesthetic Movement for the song “It’s clear that medieval art”, the soldiers’ chorus came on in support in a variety of attempts at artistic attire, including one in a blue wig, carrying a handbag (causing an outbreak of hysteria in the audience).  The orchestra got in on the gags too, with the brief segue into Rhapsody in Blue cut short by a disparaging aside from Bunthorne (Tony Blackshaw).

Amongst the songs, I tend to enjoy the small ensemble pieces most, so in this case “Long years ago, fourteen maybe” was beautifully sung by Alison Bradley as Patience and Lucy Whiteman as Lady Angela.  This was followed by the arrival of Grosvenor (Adrian Hickford in an artful long blonde wig), for his duet with Patience “Prithee, pretty maiden” and shortly afterwards by the sextet in the act one finale (where Sullivan’s melody and harmonies are, as I suppose one should expect, very close to those of his hymns).

In the first solo of the second act, Lady Jane bemoans the fact that she’s not as slender as she once was.  This was done whilst she reclined in a tin bath, beneath a lot of bubbles, and with the movements of her scrubbing brush accompanied by scrapings on the double bass.  Shortly afterwards, at the end of another beautifully crafted series of visual jokes, it was revealed that the reason Katie Hickson was not as slender as she might have been was that she was wearing a fat suit.

Musical Director Marcus Reeves used a (commercially available) reduced orchestration.  This was entirely appropriate for the production, and, because it tones down the strings in favour of woodwind, it makes the overture sound as if Sullivan is trying to be Rossini.  The singing was excellent throughout, as was the acting.  Amongst many details, I enjoyed that when Grosvenor changed to Cockney for “A Waterloo House young man”, Angela’s accent followed suit.

Tremendous fun from start to finish.