The Sorcerer

Date 13th October 2022
Society Stamford G & S Players
Venue The Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre
Type of Production G&S
Director Ruth Palmer
Musical Director Christine Bullough and Rachel Thomas
Written By Gilbert and Sullivan

Report

Author: Jules Jones

The Sorcerer is a two-act comic opera, based on a Christmas story, An Elixir of Love, that W S Gilbert wrote for The Graphic magazine in 1876. A young man, Alexis, is obsessed with the idea of love levelling all ranks and social distinctions. To promote his beliefs, he invites the proprietor of J. W. Wells & Co., Family Sorcerers, to brew a love potion. This causes everyone in the village to fall in love with the first person they see and results in the pairing of comically mismatched couples. In the end, Wells must sacrifice his life to break the spell. One of the lesser-known early works, which nonetheless has all the markings and musical fun of Gilbert and Sullivan's later operas, their use of all the major character types and typical range of songs that would appear in their later collaborations, such as comic duets, a patter song, a contrapuntal double chorus, a tenor and soprano love duet, a soprano showpiece that we have all grown to love.

Stamford G&S performed brilliantly. The first full production for some time! Ruth Palmers’ direction was masterful, her energy and enthusiasm pervaded the whole production. The close working team of Chris Bullough and Rachel Thomas (Musical Directors) made the glorious music fill The Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre, the perfect venue for this production.  The precision, diction, and pace were excellent, all under the experienced control of this experiences Trio.

There were so many great performances, especially from Nigel Pinkney who played the creepy titular Mr Wells the traveling sorcerer. Fabulous characterisation and lovely voice and the stunning Cat Johnson who played the weepy Constance, smashing voice and very well acted. Alex Moores played the Notary with huge talent and comic timing. He had us laughing right from the moment he stepped onto the stage, with his energy and clever use of body language. (With hilarious costume!) Speaking of costumes, I thought they were all very good, but it was interesting to see Mr Wells dressed in an almost identical costume from the original poster from the 1884 production at the Savoy theatre London. (Costume by Cheryl Rogerson, Lichfield Costume Hire and the G&S Players)

Alexis and Aline played by William Lewis and Sophie Hurst, the main romantic duo. Sophie’s voice was very strong, sweet, and exactly right for the part. Both acted their parts very well and even when Alexis turned against Aline, we still felt sympathy for their relationship. Masterful. Lady Sangazure played by the extraordinarily talented Margaret Wainwright, with liveliness and levity. Margaret kept the energy up through the whole performance, it was amazing! Ken Wainwright also played his part (Sir Marmaduke) with aplomb. Their patter style song in the first act was wonderful and went down extremely well with the audience. Young performers Julia Salmon and Harry Simmons also gave very strong performances, as Love and Hercules, keeping up their performance every moment, with lots of action and leading many of the dance pieces.  A very talented pair and I look forward to seeing them again on stage.

Other outstanding performances came from Laurence Lewis and Barbara Hayward, playing Dr Daly the curate and Mrs Partlet. Laurence’s characterisation was on point with fantastic comic timing and actions. Whilst Barbara was just brilliant, lighting up the stage with her wonderful performance. I also particularly liked Rachael Kirstie Hayward in her role of Ahrimanis, a wonderful red costume and props added to the role, but her voice and characterisation shone through.

Rachel Thomas also gave a comic performance as part of the ensemble her funny lines and actions added to the whole show. In fact, I couldn’t fault the villagers, played by Allan Crowson, Amy Couchman, Ben Falkiner, David Stapleton, Debbie Wallace, Karen Hibbins, Kirsty Warn, Lucas Morgan, Patsy Burke, Phil Hammersley, and Suzannah Pinkney. All sang well and kept up the acting throughout. The dance numbers were well choreographed and included complicated yet charming actions.  A very confident performance from everyone.

Ruth Palmers' dedication to the production showed in many subtle ways. She had researched the early productions of this opera and managed to incorporate many elements from historical productions and from her own imaginings. The language of flowers, very popular in the Victorian era, which was demonstrated with the ‘journey of the rose’, and the flowers held at heart level to signify happiness. The attention to detail shone through for me, the costumes, the bird song, the lighting, the magic of the elevating teapot and all the special effects. Just brilliant!

The orchestra led by Christine Bullough, Violin (lead) Katherine Collison, with Liz Taylor, Roger Loose, Jenny Neighbour, Viola, Nick Brown, Cello, Mike Horsfall, Double Bass, Phil Winfield, Flute/Piccolo, Deirdre Culloty, Oboe/Cor Anglais, Victoria Withington, Clarinet, James Anderson, Bassoon, Anne McCrae, Trumpet, Allan Robinson, Trombone, Stewart Drummond, French Horn, Alistair Ernest, and Percussion, Martin Bright, all performed well and I really enjoyed the sound you created. (Orchestration by Richard Balcombe). Kate Bidwell was the rehearsal pianist, it was delightful to meet you after the production.

The stage crew led by Trevor French, (Matt Butterworth, Julian Fairweather, Nathan Hall, Mick Massingham, and Jacob Smith with Harry Butterworth on calls) must have worked hard, there were so many mobile elements, yet all seemed to go swimmingly. I must mention the chaperones, Kate Simmons, Elizabeth, and James Salmon, without whom the young members wouldn’t have been able to perform, an essential but often overlooked part of the production team. Along with the front of house team, Tamsin Cunningham and the friends and theatre staff, all gave a warm welcome, another essential nonperforming role. The set was colourful and interesting, utilising different levels and background detail.

The program was colourful and informative, with many lovely photographs of the cast and crew, including memorials to past members and promotion of your next production. (The Gondoliers - October 2023), information about the society plus advertisements from local companies who have supported the show. Sadly, I can not offer this to the NODA program competition as you have not matched the criteria. For more details, please see the NODA website. https://www.noda.org.uk/download/181/2022-2024-competition-details .

Thank you for allowing me the honour of presenting the NODA long service awards after the production, it was lovely to meet you all and I could tell you are a friendly welcoming society who support each other and enjoy the process of creating such wonderful productions.  I look forward to seeing you all next year and possibly popping into a rehearsal at some stage.

I think you can tell I really enjoyed The Sorcerer, I came away with a light heart, a song on my lips, and memories of giggles and guffaws, if that isn’t a sign of a great performance, I don’t know what is. Thank you.