‘Patience – Bunthorne’s Bride’ is a delightful, romantic and satirical comic opera presented by ‘The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Western Australia’ who are celebrating an amazing 67 years of presenting the works of these musical genii. This is considered the funniest in the G and S’s repertoire.
The show Premiered on Shakespeare’s birthday in 1881. When impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, took the librettist, W. S. Gilbert and composer, Arthur Sullivan’s show to the USA in 1882, he asked the outrageous Oscar Wilde who was infamous for his crazes, fads and fashions to accompany him and promote the show – in particular, ‘Archibald’. The topic and humour is just as funny today as it was then.
It was a treat to be welcomed in the foyer by the Society’s President, Kevin Langoulant, dressed in a dinner suit and dress shirt – a memory of the real days of theatre.
This wonderful evening’s entertainment can be seen at the Dolphin Theatre in the grounds of the University of Western Australia. The 150-minute performances are at 7.30 nightly until Saturday 15th September.
The scene: It is the summer of 1881, in the gardens outside Bunthorne Castle on the eastern outskirts of London
The set: A bower arch leads onto a grass area that leads up a grey brick staircase to the wall around the castle. The impressive castle (painting) can be seen in the distance. (Set design and construction by Barry Boyd and David Hardie, whilst Jan Vinsen supplied the props).
Max Page managed the production, and Jennifer Poh was stage manager.
Good teching by the ‘UWA Theatre House’ team.
Such is the brilliance of the score, that from the opening couple of bars of the overture, one immediately knew the composer, the country being depicted and the cheeky humour that was to follow.
A large group of young women are seated on the grass discussing their love lives – or lack of it. Last time the hunky specimens of Her Majesty’s Dragoon Guards were in town, they all chose ‘the man of their dreams’, but nothing became of their romances. However, Lady Angela (Marli van der Bijl) points out that she has heard of a wealthy, ‘Fleshy’ poet, Reginald Bunthorne (Ross Bryant). Their ears prick up, and Lady Ella (Alexandra Coltrona), who has a penchant for Peking cymbals, agrees that although old he is probably the best around.
Now under demand, wealthy Reginald decides to have his solicitor (Max Page) run a raffle, with Reg as the main prize. Unfortunately for him, the soldiers return with hopes of re-igniting their loves. The Lieutenant, Duke of Dunstable (Tim Riessen) with his contralto speaking voice is the new heartthrob, crushing any chances of suave Colonel Calverley (Steve Sherwood) and Major Murgatroyd (David Cosgrove).
The fuller figured girl of the group, Lady Jane (Belinda Cox) decides to move in on the castle owner, Reginald, but unfortunately a dairy maid – reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle – called Patience (Grace Feltoe) is now in the sights of the lecherous Reginald. In the garden, Lady Saphir (Emily Schinkel) and her friends are discussing their childhood loves, when a two-metre tall, handsome young man, an ‘Idyllic Poet’ named Archibald Grosvenor (Wesley Williams) arrives. It is Patience’s ‘little’ boyfriend from 15 years earlier. After himself, this narcissistic egotist loves Patience best in the whole world.
The Rapturous Lovelorn Maidens were Anna Babriecki, Rachel Coltrona, Claire Cooling, Aimee-Rose Keppler, Bridget Lane, Dorothy Lane, Cassandra Palermo, Avalon Rector, Charlotte Rollinson, and Jennifer van den Hoek.
The Dragoon Guards were Cameron East, Nigel Goodwin, Terry Hanavan, Nico Keppler, Gavin Ryan, Roger Starbuck and Vikram Tilak.
This ripping frolic was directed by the acclaimed Alan Needham, who has packed every moment with humour and colour. Alan has cast some of the audience’s favourites in the lead roles, whilst giving a few new faces a chance to perform.
Patience has a crystal clear, strong voice. Lady Jane was hilarious as the crushed lover (fine voice). The other two Ladies, Saphir and Ella were delightful, again with beautiful voices. The men mainly had to enunciate the tricky, humorous lyrics whilst doing various strange dances. Great fun, immaculately presented.
The wardrobe mistress, Veronica Hudson, had several seamstresses all with a good eye for detail. Gail Reading, Bernie Lane, Claire Holdsworth, Ian Holdsworth, Dorothy Lane and Charlotte Rollinson have put a huge amount of work into the accurate costumes. Finishing touches like the lace parasols, the lace gowns, the Guards’ blue moleskin trousers, and their spectacular red and gold jackets. The soldiers’ dress uniform had the blue pillbox hat replaced by impressive fire gilt helmets, each complete with a fluted spike and horsehair plume. One would be difficult to source, but the whole regiment had this post 1871 helmet.
It is obvious that Gilbert had strong dislike of pomposity and in this show has taken every opportunity to mock such people.
The regular ‘G and S’ musical director, Michael Brett, has been joined by Georg Corall who is making his directorial debut with this Society. It was obvious how many hard hours of rehearsal Michael and the cast had put into the singing and choreography (Alexandra Coltrona?).
With such an intimate space, it is essential that the musicians are true ‘team’ workers and not drawing attention to themselves by producing an unwanted, loud solo performance. This orchestra was PERFECTLY balanced and played softly whilst accompanying the singers. With such magnificent lyrics, the audience want to be able to savour every word, and so Georg’s superb ‘volume’ control was much appreciated. A Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical, because of the specific instrument mix, has a sound of its own; this orchestra was spot-on.
The live orchestra, that was under the concertmaster Penny Reiss, and comprised violins (Maxine Fong, Kristy Hughes, Winston t’Hart, Elise Rosenberg), violas (Michelle Fong, Elyse Williams), ‘cello (Amanda Reynolds), double bass (Keith Bender), flute (Jennifer Mummert), oboe (Sheila Byfield), clarinet (Blake Howieson), bassoon (Sarah Collins, Donna Feehan), horn (Sandra McKenna, Jim Gunson), trumpet (Irwin Palmer, Kelly Bradley, Ben Jackson) and percussion (Daniel Cullingford).
It was a treat to see the orchestra in front of the stage, at auditorium floor level rather than buried in a pit. It helps youngsters link the musical sounds that they hear on TV and discs, with the actual instrument producing the sound.
There are always people who – almost with pride – announce, ‘I’m not really into opera!’ If you know one of these characters, grab them and all your family members over the age of 10 (yes a ten year old will love this show) and drag them along to see a hilarious, colourful, light-hearted musical. There was no ‘Fat Lady’ screeching in Italian, but there were beautiful melodies, several of Gilbert’s tongue-twisting lyrics perfectly presented in the true G and S tradition of slightly ham acting combined with tongue in cheek, dry humour.
Two and a half hours of pure joy, you must catch it, but there are only a couple of shows left.