REVIEW: Ruddigore, Harrogate Theatre

Harrogate Gilbert and Sullivan Society in Ruddigore
Harrogate Gilbert and Sullivan Society in Ruddigore

One thing is certain; this is a brilliantly staged, sung and played performance by Harrogate Gilbert and Sullivan Society of The Witch’s Curse (formerly known as Ruddigore, about which more anon).

There isn’t a single weak link in the cast: Graham Weston and Dan Stanford are a thoroughly dependable pair of foster-brothers.

David McDonald his ever-reliable self as Sir Despard Murgatroyd, David Parker throws his considerable weight around to exciting effect as Sir Roderic, Brittany Rachin makes rather more than most others have done of the ingénue Rose Maybud, (her singing and her dialogue are both notably successful).

Valerie Green’s Dame Hannah hasn’t quite decided how old she is supposed to be, but it’s unlikely that W S Gilbert knew either (these days somewhere between 55 and 85 is too approximate).

Were there a prize for the best performance, it would have to go to Liz Kelley’s outstanding Mad Margaret: a character often the subject of ridicule (was she thus intended?).

Her mental aberrations are portrayed with such sincerity that were one to encounter Mad Margaret in the street, the instinct would be to go and help her, rather than hastily remove oneself to avoid an awkward encounter.

This is truly great acting and singing.

The chorus and orchestra are excellent throughout; one might wish for a few more sopranos, but you can’t have everything, and it should be recognised and commended that the chorus line-up includes people of all ages.

It’s wonderful to see young teenagers throwing themselves into the action with such commitment.

Carrie and Charlotte Brown’s wardrobe department have excelled themselves; Oliver Longstaff’s musical direction keeps things moving, occasionally too hastily, but, given the show in question, his desire to make progress is wholly understandable.

And therein lies the reservation: Ruddigore has a reputation of being one of the more problematic Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

It’s a tale of a community where a witch, burning at the stake, has imposed a curse on the baronets of Ruddigore Castle, who have to commit a crime daily in order to escape death.

Add to this several improbable love interests and you have a typical Gilbertian plot.

Alistair Donkin, the Harrogate company’s longstanding director, has courageously decided to update the piece to the 1960s and to market it under its alternative title.

The lively production is most successful when it is most experimental, and one wishes the updating and insertion of witty topical references had extended to a wholesale rewrite (and abridgement) of the dialogue: Gilbert’s Victorian prose sits uneasily amongst the stunning modern clothes and wigs.

Having said which, the whole show is enormous fun, performed with commitment and panache by this admirable company.

One wishes them every success with future productions (and if they found the courage to venture away from Gilbert and Sullivan occasionally, this might not be a bad thing for both audience and performers). Go and see.

It runs at Harrogate Theatre until Saturday May 20, daily at 7.30pm plus a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.

Tickets: 01423 502 116.