Posts Tagged ‘lindy hume

19
Jul
17

Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse

Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse

Opera Queensland

QPAC Playhouse

July 14 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Geoff Waite

 

Being a life-long fan of Gilbert and Sullivan after my introduction to their wonderful operettas as a high school lad performing in Trial by Jury, The Pirates of Penzance, and HMS Pinafore, and in later years The Mikado, I was excited to be attending Opera Queensland’s production of Ruddigore. Perhaps one of the least-known Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Ruddigore has not often been performed here, so this was a welcome opportunity to enjoy it. And enjoy it I did.

 

While the original opening night of Ruddigore on 22 January 1887 was less than successful, after some modification it went on to be well accepted. Of all the G&S operettas, Gilbert later declared Ruddigore to be one of his three favourites, the others being Utopia and The Yeomen of the Guard.

 

 

In a satirical take on the Victorian Melodrama genre, Ruddigore’s farcical plot employs curses, witches, and disguises, and the intricacies of this bizarre and convoluted plot can be difficult to grasp.The Baronets of Ruddigore are subject to a terrible curse placed on them by a witch long ago – each of the successive Baronets must commit some kind of a crime every single day or they will die in terrible agony. Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the Baronet of Ruddigore, has been living as a farmer, Robin Oakapple (Bryan Proberts), for years, working up the courage to ask a beautiful village maiden, Rose Maybud (Natalie Christie Peluso), for her hand. Rose is also keen on Robin but as a woman she is bound by the etiquette of the day and cannot tell him of her feelings. In the village in which they live, a group of professional bridesmaids who are desperate to officiate at a wedding, any wedding, none having been celebrated for six months, are encouraging this union. Robin, who was supposed to have died but has been hiding in disguise while his younger brother, Sir Despard Murgatroyd (Jason Barry Smith), assumed the title and the curse, is hiding the secret. His foster-brother, Richard Dauntless (Kanen Breen), a sailor, wins Rose’s ‘affection’ after undertaking to woo her on behalf of the timid Robin. Richard later reveals Robin’s existence to Despard, and Robin then must take his place and the responsibility of committing a crime every day in order to abide by the terms of the curse and continue to live. In the meantime, Mad Margaret (Christine Johnston) who has been driven to madness by her love for the lost Sir Despard Murgatroyd, has appeared and is reunited with Despard, who is now free.

 

 

In Ruddigore Castle, Robin (now Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd) has difficulty perpetrating suitably bad crimes, annoying his ancestors who emerge as ghosts from their portraits in the gallery to berate him. After complying with the direction of his uncle, Sir Roderic Murgatroyd (Andrew Collis) to abduct a lady from the village as a suitable crime, the lady abducted happens to be Dame Hannah (Roxane Hislop), Sir Roderic’s former love and fiancé. They are reunited in love. Robin then submits to Roderic that under the terms of the curse, a Baronet of Ruddigore can die only by refusing to commit a daily crime. Refusing would therefore basically lead to suicide, but suicide is itself, a crime. Thus he reasons, his predecessors “ought never to have died at all’. Roderic agrees with this logic and Robin is freed of the curse. All ends happily with the various couples together again.

 

 

From the light, bright opening, set in an outdoor tea-house by the sea and later in the dark depths of the Ruddigore Castle where the current cursed Baronet and his ancestors’ portraits dwell, the set (Richard Roberts) is nicely complemented by the lighting and effects of Andrew Meadows, giving a modern feel to a piece first performed in 1887, when one feels, the production would not have been so ‘light’. And a few modern terms thrown into the dialogue fit well. The emergence of the baronet ghosts from their portraits in the gallery is a special moment. The acting is tops and I particularly enjoyed the Frank Spencer-like attitude and reticence evident in Robin’s first encounter with Rose. As expected, the singing is exceptional, from leads and chorus alike, with The Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Roland Peelman providing exhilarating accompaniment with Sullivan’s music.

 

 

This is a comedy and much of the credit for the expression and impact of Gilbert’s libretto is due to the Director, Lindy Hume and her assistant and Choreographer, Rosetta Cook. The portrayal of Despard Murgatroyd and Mad Margaret as Salvation Army officers touting timbrels on their return to normal life is classic. And the extension of those timbrels to the whole cast for a rousing timbrel- shaking finale made a fitting end to a most enjoyable show that you should see.

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21
Sep
16

Snow White

Snow White

La Boite, Opera Queensland & Brisbane Festival

The Roundhouse

September 3 – 24 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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My mother just spent more than 50 days in hospital – two hospitals actually, between two ICUs – and she continues to recover at home from complications following surgery, all due to a bug that travelled with her from one of the 5 Stans. I’ve also been sick since Brisbane Festival opening night and have stubbornly attended as much as possible, in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast, where people forget I’m based, without managing to keep up with the follow up, i.e. writing about what I’ve seen. I have, however, perhaps as some sort of procrastination, insisted on (mostly successfully although the place could be tidier) running a household with two extra people in it, getting to some social engagements, camping at North Shore despite coughing up a bigger storm than the one to hit us on the day we came home, and before that, finishing a 5-week teaching contract because unlike reviewing Brisbane theatre, teaching pays. An exhausting term, physically and emotionally. I’ve missed yoga and coffee dates and drinks and events. Everything online needs an overhaul, the garden needs love, and I’ve been postponing the spring cleaning since this time last year. I need new writers, I need new clothes and I need a new focus. But more on that later.

Luckily, most of the shows I see stay with me. And let’s quietly appreciate the archival value of even a late response. Here’s the first in a succession of catch ups, well overdue. Sorry about that.

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We enter The Roundhouse to a Disney soundtrack and chirping birdsong, eliciting an eerie sense of foreboding and at the same time, a false sense of security. This is a grim tale, much more so than the Grimm tale.

For the record, Disney’s classic animated Snow White unnerves me to this day.

The forest is inside, on the ceiling. The darkness is broken by fairy lights. Mirrors, the autumn leaves, the branches, a blood stained timber floor, musical instruments and kitchen chairs hanging from the forest canopy. Later, rose petals, sparkles… A tree house, the stairs running up the middle of it, musicians beneath it (the evocative space designed by Sarah Winter & striking lighting designed by Ben Hughes). I recognise Kanen Breen, like a lithe, glittering, corseted Cabaret Emcee, swanning around with his glass of red until it’s drained and settling next to a member of the audience for an intimate chat. He grins like The Cheshire Cat and moves on to the next victim, seated in front of us. I love Breen’s sparkling red nails and mouth, the essence of the infamous red apple, a reminder of the inherent evil and glamorous violence of this fairytale. He’s The Mirror. Of course he is.

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The Queen (Silvia Colloca) epitomises everything we love to loathe and fear and admire about the evil stepmother stereotype / ancient mother archetype. She’s sophisticated and sexy, intimidating, alluring…actually, she’s intoxicating. Colloca’s voice is a fallen angel’s, her lower register particularly rich and warm. Scintillating in black and red lace like a Spanish lady of the night, she’s exquisite, a Diva, seducing us effortlessly. As per the original version, without differentiation between biological mother and stepmother, she is one, she is all. Mother. Woman. Crone. Queen. Her tango with The Mirror is a luscious, almost lascivious affair. Choreographed by Rosetta Cook and Gavin Webber it’s the perfect vehicle to set these two up early as the stars of the show.

Zulya Kamalova’s compositions – enchanted swirling, pulsing, living, breathing things – take us out of ourselves and into this dark, dangerously glistening, shifting world of elegance, innocence and broken trust. A waltz spells out the mother-daughter relationship more clearly and succinctly than a few shouted lines of dialogue can do. We feel for them both. None of us actually want to grow old and weary and weathered, after all. Suzie Miller’s libretto succeeds in capturing varying perspectives on the power and fragility of women and the way we can examine our potential, our power, our perceived limitations, our ambitions, and what it is we’re prepared to do to be “happy” when we dare to look at ourselves in the mirror.

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This Little Lolita Snow White, the fairest of them all, is an innocent princess turned teen seductress. An innate talent, an inevitability; the product of her environment, perhaps… In her last desperate attempt to escape the clutches, and the axe, of The Hunter (Michael Tuahine), this Snow White becomes every mother’s worst nightclubbing, shame-walking nightmare. Steph Pickett gets the mix just right – she’s ingenue and expert, and sings like Fiona Apple/Jesska Hoop/Katie Noonan (and I see Katie in the bank of seats opposite us but miss her later to say hello to). It’s Act 1’s most contemporary piece, reminding me of the first 16 bars of Katzenjammer’s Hey Ho On the Devil’s Back in both its shape and tone. This is the moment the little girl becomes a woman, beautifully, frighteningly, authentically captured. The most amazing, game-changing piece of the show though is The Queen’s lament, truly exemplary vocal work, which must be heard to be believed. Colloca’s wailing resonates with us no matter how great or small our individual losses, and becomes a cry of utter despair for all mothers everywhere, for all humanity. She wails and groans her immense grief, singing over the unmoving body of her daughter. Singing over the bones. Lost. Empty. Willing her flesh and blood, her little Snow White, to come back to life, even when it will bring about her own undoing. This extended moment in time holds us in collective stillness, breathlessness, until the final haunting note fades. It’s the greatest Medea moment we’ve seen yet. This is an indescribable ache, which I’ll retain from this show for years yet. 

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The production continues past its perfect end though, redundantly taking us ten years into the future, when Snow White is with child and we see the pattern repeating. The story goes on… I would love to have left the story to go on unseen, leaving us hanging, after the devastating look that is exchanged between the two once the girl has realised her mother has tried multiple times to kill her. The rest amounts to the beginning of a poor sequel and undoes a little bit of the brilliance that is this new extraordinary work, so funny and lovely, and witty and gritty and gory.

I also enjoyed less than others may have, the opening of Act 2 involving Colloca-as-performer-as-The Queen, wrapped in her iconic cape, gliding down the stairs and moving through the audience to offer an apple to bemused audience members – “It’s not poisonous” – and sitting on stage to share a story from between the pages of Grimm’s Fairytales before morphing back into The Queen proper to go on with the tale. A gimmick that seems unnecessary in a work of such quality but one that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Think about it. Do audiences need these breaks from the narrative to connect, to relate, to remember they’ve come here to experience another world? To help them recognise their world? Despite my questions, I see the opening night audience embrace every element of the production and so I muse, again, who am I to find fault with any tiny thing? Snow White is truly a work of art and I hope we see the original cast recording soon, if not a beautifully filmed version of the show at some stage.

Masterfully directed in this space by Lindy Hume, Snow White is an important, potent new work that reflects our enduring obsession with beauty, power, the mystical feminine and the wonder and majesty, the vital lessons of storytelling. An accomplished piece for a world premiere and perfect festival fare, Snow White is destined for lands far, far away. I hope you saw it here at least once. 




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