Opening Night Success!!! Ruddigore, or the Witch's Curse!
Barney Lewis | On 21, Jul 2017
It wasÂ opening night at The Playhouse, QPAC forÂ Opera Queensland’s production of Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse! and the anticipation amongst the audience wasÂ palpable. Artistic DirectorÂ Lindy Hume’sÂ spin on the lesser knownÂ Gilbert and SullivanÂ piece was only moments away and fuelling the anticipation of those in their seats wasÂ Richard Roberts’ off-kilter stage design. It wasÂ time for the gothic,Â Python-esqueÂ inspired show to kick start its Brisbane run. I strapped myselfÂ in!
Desperate bridesmaids, an old maid, tea cups, teapots and the beautiful but etiquette obsessed Rose Maybud open this delightful production and set the tone for the first half ofÂ Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse!Â
The RuddigoreÂ tale revolvesÂ around a family curse, two brothers, a foster brother, the town’s most attractive and eligible bachelorette and a crazed, jilted bride-to-be. Meet Robin Oakapple aka Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, Sir Despard Murgatroyd, Richard “Dick” Dauntless, Rose Maybud and Mad Margaret. These five characters are the centrepiece of Gilbert and Sullivan’s follow up toÂ The Mikado.Â At the heart of this story is an older brother who escapes a family curse of having to commit a crime a day or die a painful death, and by doing so passes this burden to his younger brother.
Bryan Probets was at his brilliant best on opening night as Robin Oakapple/Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd. He was not alone however in delivering a wonderul display of opera at its finest. In fact, all the players were in top form for the premier performance. It came as no surprise that both Christine Johnston as Mad Margaret and Natalie Christie Peluso as Rose were on top of their games. These talented actors played the female characters with depth and harnessed the power of their femininity. Their performances were a credit to both themselves as performers but significantly a credit to Director Lindy Hume who provided the freedom and direction for these characters to be multi-dimensional.Â Act One for mine however was owned by the performances of Jason Barry-Smith as the villainous Sir Despard Murgatroyd and Kanen Breen as the crass but hilarious roughneck sailor, Richard Dauntless. W.S Gilbert proves that dick jokes have been around forever. As Kanen Breen told The Creative Issue (TCI) after the show, “Even though RuddigoreÂ is not the best known Gilbert and Sullivan (production), those that do know it would be very upset if the dick jokes werenâ€™t in there because theyâ€™re all written in the script and they (the audience) have come to expect that. There is a lot of leeway in that script for dick gags and we certainly take them to the logical, classless conclusionâ€.
Act Two flipped the production on its head and also challenged the main players to produce a 180 degree turn. The squeaky clean Robin inherits the curse and must transform into a conspiring villain or perish. The once cursed Despard is set free from his life of daily crimes and in the strangest of unions, couples with Mad Margaret and brings a tambarine inspired performance as they transform into officers of The Salvation Army.
The set design is a masterclass by Richard Roberts. The Andy Warhol inspired Pop Art portraits come to life as the Murgatroyd clan haunt Ruthven and ensure he understands his new lot in life. This brilliant use of set design was a highlight of the performance and the audience certainly responded to the inspired creativity that was served up as the haunting figures graced the stage. The introduction of these ghosts of Murgatroyd past ensures a high point of the closing halfhour, a shining performance by Andrew Collis as Sir Roderick.
Following the final curtain call, TCI enjoyed Â the pleasure of discussing the production with Dick Dauntless, aka Kanen Breen and asked what twist he felt Director Lindy Hume had put on Opera Queensland’s production ofÂ Ruddigore. “Thatâ€™s a good question. I was actually in the chorus of the last professional production of RuddigoreÂ that happened 20 odd years ago with the Melbourne State Opera and I know that Lindy really wanted to do RuddigoreÂ primarily because there are two very strong female protagonists written in the show, and quite often what happens with Gilbert and Sullivan operettas like The MikadoÂ or Pirates (of Penzance),Â what have you, the female characters are sort of very easily played as two dimensional, dumbed down, sort of ditsy, you know, not particularly smart or worldly people. Part of the attraction that Lindy felt towards this piece is that there are two female characters, one of whom is mentally unstable um, but Lindy really wanted to present a Gilbert and Sullivan that put the women characters at the forefront of the action of the piece and allowed the women to drive what went on, and I think thatâ€™s primarily the difference between this production of RuddigoreÂ and other ones, because it is, it is possible to do a production of RuddigoreÂ where the women are relegated to the background and the men drive the action, but Lindy made it her mission to give the women as much onstage time and as much of a voice as she was able to do and I think sheâ€™s achieved that really well and I think itâ€™s far from a feminist tale but it certainly gives the women equal input into their own fates which isnâ€™t always the case in Gilbert and Sullivanâ€.
The opening night performance was crisp and on point. A triumph. This production is something special. If the stars align, regional Queensland audiences will have the pleasure of attending this production if and when Opera Queensland take their polished version of Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse!Â on the road.
What: Ruddigore, or the Witchâ€™s Curse! by Opera Queensland
When: 14 to 29 July
Where: The Playhouse, QPAC
Cost: $25 â€“ $130
Images – Courtesy of Susan Hetherington and supplied.