By Danielle Farrow
Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse, sees WS Gilbert in fine satirical form and Arthur Sullivan accompanying his partner’s ironies and amusing characterisations with a score that offers light pathos and dastardly drama alongside its jolly tunes.
The Baronets of Ruddigore, due to an ancestor’s penchant for persecuting witches, are cursed to commit a crime a day until such time as they refuse – which day they die. However, Ruthven Murgatroyd, who should be the current ‘Bad Bart.’, ran away while still young and is now living in a village under the assumed name of Robin Oakapple, while his younger brother Despard – against his instincts -has to swish the cursed baronet mantle in true dastardly fashion.
Robin is in love with the fair Rose Maybud, a foundling who lives by the precepts in a book of etiquette which make it impossible for her to actively pursue any love she feels. This, coupled with Robin’s reserve, does not bode well for their romance, but everything is shaken up by the return from sea of Dick Dauntless, Robin’s foster brother, the attentions of Mad Margaret looking to foil Despard’s plots (she being one of his victims and crazily in love with him) and the appearance of Despard himself. Throw in the revelation of Robin’s true identity at a dramatic moment, an earlier romance of the former Bad Bart. and a lady of the village, choruses of professional bridesmaids and threatening ghostly ancestors, the trials of good men forced to go bad, and you get a heady brew of paradoxical characters and situations, with some grand melodramatic scenes, plenty of patter, a fair few satirical digs and a resolution of some ingenuity.
Opera North’s Ruddigore produces all this beautifully, director Jo Davies showing flair in visual staging and very ably assisted in humour by choreographer Kay Shepherd. The designers (Richard Hudson – set, Anna Watson – lighting, Gabrielle Dalton – costume) create fantastic, detailed pictures and there is particularly fine wicked atmosphere and staging for the Ruddigore mansion.
For the most part, the fun of the script is fleshed out with strong characterisations by the principals, but while the overall plot comes across very well, not all the singers are clear enough for Gilbert’s lyrics to be heard throughout. Most of the songs are delivered with verve and style, though, including where political references are updated – nothing overdone, just a couple of flashes of modern references. There is also a stand-out performance from Heather Shipp, who gives us a Mad Margaret who has energy, pathos, great timing, is very clear, and is really a joy to watch and hear. Steven Page also impresses as the ghost of the previous Baronet, with his own thwarted romance.
Ruddigore takes the stereotypes of melodrama and gives them a satirical polish and some fine personality twists, keeping the effectiveness of a grand score and providing some great entertainment. Opera North’s production looks fantastic and, while not all songs could be clearly heard, provides some good solid fun.
7th to 9th June 19:30, Saturday matinee 14:15 @ Edinburgh Festival Theatre