Ruddigore, Opera North, Barbican, November 2011

W. S. Gilbert, the librettist for this work, was a master of wit, not just on paper but spontaneously in conversation. When a neighbour referred admiringly to Ruddigore calling it Bloodygore, Gilbert objected, so the neighbour said: “Same thing isn’t it?” WSG was swift as a rapier, “If I admire your ruddy countenance, it doesn’t mean I like your bloody cheek, which I don’t”.

All images Robert Workman

There’s no blood in Ruddigore, but there is a ghostly episode after our hero, Robin has reluctantly accepted his real name of Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, whose position as the Lord of Ruddigore gives him the accursed obligation of committing a crime a day. Failure to do so condemns him to death. His attempted crimes are rather inadequate, and in Act II ancestral paintings come to life to accuse him of failure. This pantomime-like episode was very well done, with excellent sets and lighting by Richard Hudson and Anna Watson. All seems lost, but the trick in the plot is that the honest Robin suddenly realises that failure to commit a crime is suicide, which itself is a crime …

Robin and Rose, just before the intervention

Robin was delightfully sung and portrayed by Grant Doyle, a versatile performer whom I last saw as a bearded Abraham in Clemency, a serious Biblical opera by James MacMillan. His beloved Rose Maybud was beautifully sung by Amy Freston whose body movements were those of a ballerina. She even did a small jeté en tournant at the end, and the sheer joy of her performance was a charm in itself. Robin’s foster-brother, Dick Dauntless was engagingly performed by Hal Cazalet, and the rest of the cast formed an excellent team around these three principals, including Heather Shipp as the Mad Margaret, Steven Page as the ancestral Sir Roderic, Richard Burkhard as the sly Sir Despard, and Anne-Marie Owens as Dame Hannah, all well directed by Jo Davies.

The ghosts of Ruddigore

Sullivan’s music was played with wit and enthusiasm under the direction of John Wilson, and it was a pleasure to see a performance of this lesser-known operetta from the Gilbert and Sullivan stable.

Performances at the Barbican continue until November 26 — for details click here.

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