Weddings are never without drama, and none more so than when long lost family make an unwelcome appearance. When Robin Oakapple, a.k.a. Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, falls in love with the virtuous Rose Maybud, he doesn’t count on his evil younger brother hunting him down to restore the family curse to its rightful owner; not what a bachelor needs when he’s trying to hold onto his fiancée’s heart and surrounded by hysterical young women.
Sitting somewhere between comic opera and musical theatre, Gilbert & Sullivan isn’t for everyone. Those who struggle with the Victorian comedy, fickle characters and unashamed melodrama will be hard-pushed to find a production they enjoy – but this might just be one. In an attempt to cast off the shackles of what are often fusty interpretations, Opera North‘s comparatively young production team have created a fresh yet fashionably vintage take on one of the duo’s less celebrated operettas. Outdated satire has been replaced with up-to-date equivalents, while both the costumes and the set suggest an unspecified but more recent past.
As is to be expected of a company with Opera North’s reputation, the quality of performances is high all-round, with some impressive dictation around the notoriously tongue-twisting passages. But the real gem of the show is Richard Hudson‘s set. At times understated with rustic Victoriana charm, at others oversized and brimming with detail, each one creates some stunning montages, while the silent movie is an unexpected and impressively imaginative touch. The second act’s cleverly conceived portrait gallery drags the production from a slightly stifled first half into a bounding energy, which heightens the humour as the opera reaches its bizarre climax.
This is a Gilbert & Sullivan production to end all Gilbert & Sullivan productions. With such a diverse mix of theatre crafts being used so effectively, it’s difficult to imagine how it would have been done when Ruddigore was first performed in 1887 – or how the next company will manage to live up to such uninhibited creativity.