For this week only, St Mary’s Creative Space in Chester was transformed into Ruddigore Abbey, family seat of the Murgatroyds, the accursed family line of Baronets. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, definitely at the topsy-turvier end of the duo’s repertoire, this week received its first outing by the Chester Operatic Society since 1924. It’s no Mikado (an anonymous contemporary reviewer hailed it ‘a ruddy bore’), but fans of Gilbert and Sullivan and newcomers alike will find much to delight in this rarely performed gem.
The overture revealed that this was a production with an extra twist, a play within a play (surely Gilbert would have approved). Immediately, the eyes were entertained with creative choreography (a strong theme throughout), and the ears with the fantastic live orchestra, which elevated the music beautifully, and was an impressive performance in its own right. St Mary’s Creative Space became the Abbey very quickly in the audience’s imagination.
The principle singers were excellent without exception. Ruddigore contains all the types of songs Gilbert and Sullivan fans look forward to and did not disappoint on any front. Ladies first! Louise Dickinson’s If somebody there chanced to be was an early high point, humorous and charming. Karen Drury’s crystal-clear vocals brought entertainment and vivacity to Mad Margaret, and Lorna Kettle’s Dame Hannah both delightfully complemented Rose Maybud’s character in earlier scenes, and triumphed in There grew a little flower. Barbara Turner and Anna Morris gave strong support as Zorah and Ruth respectively.
The gentlemen likewise entertained and impressed. Simon Miles was an excellent Robin, comic and tragic, lyrical and quick-tongued in turn. Tom Drury countered with an impressive tenor, My boy you may take it from me was a particular highlight between the two. The transformation of Ste Sutcliffe’s Despard Murgatroyd from horror to hero was a joy to watch, and his scenes with Mad Margaret among the very best. Ian Whitfield’s brought impressive gravitas to his Roderic Murgatroyd, the ghost scene (more on that later!) was fabulous. Last, but by no means least, Steve Riordan’s ‘Old’ Adam, a lovely bass, rounded off a brilliant cast of principles.
The supporting cast of maids, bridesmaids, footmen and ghosts are also to be highly commended. The ensemble pieces were consistently entertaining and the quality of the singing highly enjoyable. Great credit to the musical director Jan Hutchings in bringing together such a talented group of singers which frequently raised a laugh. It is always impressive when you can’t even see the hard work you know has happened behind the scenes. The aforementioned ghost scene deserves special mention, the costumes, choreography, music and acting, along with some very special artwork in the former ecclesiastic setting, was a masterpiece of direction. Juliet Miles, the artistic director should be very proud of it.
Overall, a highly enjoyable evening, and an opportunity for any Gilbert and Sullivan fan to add the lesser known Ruddigore to their repertoire. Chester Operatic Society has been entertaining the population of Chester for almost 100 years, and this was no exception. It is no surprise that tickets have already sold out for what is sure to be sensational Friday and Saturday performances. If you have missed out on this occasion, then be sure to get your tickets promptly for what is sure to be another sell-out. Chester Operatic Society will return on the 13th and 14th of December for Just Believe, an inspiring evening of festive songs and carols – book here.
*Thank you to Iain Morton for all photos.