The Grand Duke or The Statutory Duel

Date 12th March 2022
Society Astwood Bank Operatic Society
Venue St Matthias and St George Church
Type of Production G&S
Director Steve Skinner
Musical Director Mike Dhonau
Written By WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan

Report

Author: Andy Brown

After two years of pandemic what a delight to be back with Astwood Bank Operatic Society for The Grand Duke or The Statutory Duel. This show was the fourteenth and final collaboration between W.S Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan which premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 07 March 1896 Running for only 123 performances it was their only financial failure.

Move on 136 years and this rarely performed operetta is performed by Astwood Bank for the very first-time living memory. On this occasion due to a time of uncertainty the performance was in a church rather than a theatre.

Most of the action took place in the chancel while also making good use of the pulpit and nave. Seating was arranged for what appeared to be a concert version of this operetta. Although some initial numbers confirmed this to be the case the performance became more and more a full Gilbert and Sullivan production.

The plot of this show is complicated (pleased I had done a bit of research first). Luckily and very cleverly we had Michael Hawkins (President of Astwood Bank) as narrator to guide us through. Not only did Michael assist with the plot but also made some local references (or similar sounding references and directed the audience to refreshments at the interval) to help with the action. His dry and deadpan humour was a sure winner and is to be congratulated.

The cast was without a weak link with exceptional and faultless singing. The acting was good with plenty of simple choreography.

The show opens on the marketplace where Ernest Dummkopf’s, played with confidence by Michael Ferris, theatrical company are about to open with their production of Troilus and Cressida.  A billboard advertised the production due to be performed at The Palace Theatre in Roterditch (play on words) on the same dates as this production – there’s a coincidence!

The troupe’s leading comedian, Ludwig played by Rob Mead is about to get married to Lisa a soubrette of the company played by Helen Keef. This was, I understand, Rob’s first performance with Astwood Bank having played the part in the past. He was undoubtedly superb in the role. His voice was clear, and his musical numbers were a joy to listen to. Helen played her part with feeling.

Equally in superb voice was Jo Hargreaves as Julia Jellicoe. In a typical topsy –turvy twist by Gilbert the character is the only English-speaking person amongst everyone else who is German.  Therefore, the English-speaking character is the only person in the show to have a German accent. Jo carried this off to good effect, while ensuring clear diction.  

Mention must be made of a wonderful performance by Melanie Hart as Dr Tannhäuser (Notary) who looked every bit the part with good acting and voice.  

The quintet performed by the above was especially well done. 

 

Jean Chalk was a brilliant Baroness Von Krakenfeldt and worked well with the equally splendid Mark Tooby as Rudolph, The Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbpfennig. Their courting number was wonderfully performed by both.  

In many shows a relatively small part can be played so well the actor sticks in the memory. This time Michael Treagust as Herald fell into this category. He played the part with great humour much to the enjoyment of the audience. He had clearly studied his entrance and exit at the famous Ministry for Silly Walks.

Finally on the scene were The Prince and Princess of Monte Carlo played with relish by Stewart Vick and Cathryn Dhonau dressed ready for the roulette table.

Costumes were good including for the Greek chorus and the troupe from D’Oyly Carte. Congratulations to those involved in sorting wardrobe requirements.

The libretto was typically Gilbert in style. Who else could script lines referring to the Acting Temporary Sub-Deputy Assistant Vice-Chamberlains? The score was as rich as any by Sullivan. The show was long at 2 hours 50 minutes with the interval, but it is a real shame this show is so overlooked. I was pleased to see the support from fellow Gilbert and Sullivan societies at this production. Who knows maybe others will also perform this show – I do hope so.

I am convinced for most of the cast this would have been the first time they performed this show. However well done to Astwood Bank Operatic Society for taking on the challenge of the difficult score and complicated plot.

I look forward to seeing everyone again, hopefully at Kiss Me Kate in 2023 (originally scheduled for 2021).