Patience, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2017

What fun! Just the ticket for an evening out, and Liam Steel’s witty production makes this a fine riposte to the absurdities and pretentions of modern life.

All images ETO/ Richard Hubert Smith

Of course, Gilbert’s libretto is poking fun at the sophistry and ‘art for art’s sake’ attitude that infected the Victorian aesthetic movement, personified here by Reginald Bunthorne. He and Archibald Grosvenor compete for the attentions of the lovelorn ladies whose aestheticism drives even the manly dragoons to acts of absurdity. The coherence of this Gilbert and Sullivan composition gives it contemporary relevance without need for modern directorial interpretation, which in any case always elides some of the original wit, and I loved the costumes and tongue-in-cheek choreography.

Patience the milkmaid

Bradley Travis as Bunthorne created the most marvellous poses, with and without the quill taken from a peacock’s tail feather. And if his long jacket, cravat and elaborate beret reminded me of one or two pictures of Richard Wagner, his brilliantly affected vacuity served the role to perfection. The whole cast evinced a gaiety that responded to this poseur, and I loved the little back-kicks that accompanied so many exits from the stage. The lovesick and melancholy maidens were marvellous in ensemble, pulling out handkerchiefs and opening fans in perfect unison.

Grosvenor and Ladies

Patience the milkmaid, the antidote to such aesthetic nonsense, was gloriously played by the lovely Lauren Zolezzi, and the maidens themselves were beautifully led by Suzanne Fischer and Gaynor Keeble as the Ladies Saphir and Angela. A super performance too by Valerie Reid as the aging Lady Jane, whose witty duet with Bunthorne in Act II was sheer delight. Firm vocal lines from the men, notably Bradley Travis (Bunthorne), Ross Ramgobin as Grosvenor and Aled Hall as the Duke in the dragoons.

Bunthorne and Lady Jane

Conducting by Timothy Burke started with great musical bounce and brought out the wit and lyricism of the score. In his programme essay he calls it “the most beautiful score written for the English stage since Handel”, and his joy was apparent when he literally skipped on stage for the curtain calls.

Performances continue at: Hackney Empire, 10th Mar; Lighthouse, Poole, 17th Mar; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 20th Mar; Churchill Theatre, Bromley, 24th Mar; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 31st Mar; York Theatre Royal, 7th Apr; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 10th Apr; Curve, Leicester, 12th Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 20th, 21st Apr; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 26th, 27th Apr; Buxton Opera House, 6th May; Warwick Arts Centre, 8th May; The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 12th May; Gala Theatre, Durham, 15th May; Exeter Northcott Theatre, 24th, 25th May; Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 30th May; Norwich Theatre Royal, 3rd Jun — for details click here.

 

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