Hull University Gilbert and Sullivan Society have, for the last few years, prided themselves on being able to produce energetic, enthusiastic and enjoyable versions of the G&S Operettas with a different twist to each rendition. In the eagerly anticipated Tim Burton style production of Ruddigore, the cast of 2009/2010 have certainly not dropped the ball.
Ruddigore is Gilbert’s satire of Victorian Melodrama, and the gothic elements in the plot (witches, curses, dead ancestors) make a good marriage with Tim Burton’s dark, dingy style. Director Lucy Thomson-Smith excelled herself in bringing a large and diverse cast into line with this vision, resulting in an entertaining and light hearted production.
The set for Act I of Ruddigore tore away from the usual Cornish Village to see the characters in a minimalist, monotone space, not dissimilar to the empty village in Burton’s The Corpse Bride. Resplendent in pale rags, the female chorus worked well as an eerie unit, and in their contrasting rich black the male chorus more than compensated for their lack in number with their enthusiasm and ability. Of the capable principle line-up, Lisa McKinley’s crazed and flirtatious Zorah was always a pleasure to watch. Fiona Murray’s Mad Margaret defied some of the traditional stigma of the part by being identifiable; her madness was reasonable within her story and made the audience laugh without having to resort to pure absurdity. HUGSS veteran Rory Oliver’s booming entrance in Act II grabbed audience attention, well supported by the male chorus and fantastic life-size paintings of the Ruddigore ancestors.
Thomson-Smith’s direction was carried well by the cast; perhaps not to the tastes of a die-hard G&S traditionalist but carefully striking the balance between maintaining the integrity of Gilbert’s original intentions and bringing to life an exaggerated element of character and setting. Her direction for the usually dull penultimate number (‘There grew a little flower/Sing hey lack-a-day’) was beautifully sad, marrying Oliver’s strong bass with Rose Kirven’s sweetly emotional contralto to a poignant dance sequence. At several points the audience lost interest in the main action of the lead characters in favour of a humorous background interlude, which could be seen by some as a weakness – but when evaluating audience enjoyment versus audience understanding, G&S quite often proves too tangled for the latter and so here the former is a welcome relief.
Amateur productions are often hampered by a lack of financial resource or a very wooden and stuffy approach, but congratulations must be duly awarded to cast, committee and orchestra alike for an enjoyable evening, showcasing some genuine talent in many of the young performers, and bringing Gilbert’s ghosts and some of Sullivan’s most dramatic music alive once more.