14th May 2003
Most of you will know by now that I am a great fan of G & S, so I was delighted to accept your kind invitation to attend a production of this show. Alan Bowman had advised me that you were trying an "in the round" format with this production and I was interested to see how this would work at The Wilde Theatre.
The format certainly gave you scope to hint at things to come whilst the overture was being played (e.g. the fire in the Beecham) and the dramatised overture also ensured that the audience listened to the music, which is, after all, part of the show.
ROS TAYLOR (Director) and MELINDA BENNETT (Choreographer) had obviously thought long and hard about 'rotating' their cast so that we could all have a share of their faces and, I have to say, I really didn't miss the usual scenery at all! Your four main entrances/exits had been suitably clad to represent archways etc. and the innovation certainly paid off.
By and large the principal performers who were fitted with radio mikes could be clearly heard, whichever way they were facing, although sometimes there was an imbalance in the levels when two or more were singing at the same time. However, this led to a greater imbalance between principals and chorus (who were not 'miked') when, unusually, the principals overpowered the chorus. Nevertheless, most of the ensemble work was well handled.
GARY MASLEN (Colonel Fairfax) performed well in this role, although a little more passion in your courting would not have come amiss. If I am to make any real criticism of your performance, Gary, it would be to tell you about the considerable noise made by your shoes as you moved about on the wooden staging!!
DUNCAN HAMILTON (Jack Point) gave a very lively interpretation of the role. You struck a happy balance between the humour and the pathos it contains, both of which were well characterised.
The 'Cock and Bull' duet was one of the items where your mikes were not well‑balanced, which was a great shame as it was an excellent performance of the number.
ZOE WHITE (Elsie Maynard) excelled in this role, the characterisation of the naive Elsie contrasting well with her brashness as a performing player.
I usually find your opening duet with Point, 'I Have A Song To Sing, O' a bit of a boring number, the repetitiveness dragging it down as it sometimes does, but the staging certainly suited this number, making it most entertaining. The choreography of 'A Man Who Would Woo A Fair Maid' brought a novel touch to that number.
TANYA VASEY (Phoebe) gave a good portrayal of the maiden who, not only being thwarted in love, found herself saddled with the partner she didn't want! Your opening solo followed on nicely from the choreographed overture.
JAMES LOLE (Wilfred Shadbolt) developed all the humour contained in the role without sending it up and going 'OTT'
Phoebe's 'Were I Thy Bride' number was performed in a subtly different manner to that normally seen, and was one of the highlights of Act 1. The patter duet between Wilfred and Point in Act 2 did not quite have the impact of your earlier duet (Hereupon We're Both Agreed).
ANNA McCORMACK (Dame Carruthers) made excellent use of her wide experience in the development of her character. At times, though, I felt that the 'stem' approach needed a little softening. I didn't notice you smile until you had Meryll nicely stitched up!
'When Our Gallant Norman Foes' was cleverly choreographed and well sung.
JULIAN HIRST (Sergeant Meryll) couldn't quite elude the cunning Dame Carruthers! You competently performed all your musical numbers.
ELAINE ADAMS (Kate) ‑ possibly one of Gilbert's most extraordinary characters. A very small role with a musical line in one of the best numbers Sullivan wrote. 'Strange Adventure' was well performed (and remained in pitch ‑ not an easy task, as I know to my cost!!).
PAUL COOK (Sir Richard Cholmondeley) gave an elegant portrayal of the Lieutenant of the Tower.
The 'How Say You Maiden' trio was powerfully delivered.
DUNCAN BRUCE (Leonard Meryll) ‑ another of Gilbert's 'throw away' roles, with an early appearance for 'Alas I Waver Too And Fro' in Act 1 and then nothing until the end! A good characterisation, though.
BRIAN READ, PETER DEL NEVO, STUART SEBER competently carried off the solo lines in 'Tower Warders Under Orders' and blended back into the chorus of Yeomen for the remainder of the show.
CHORUS The choral work was of a high standard throughout ‑ marred by the over-amplification of the Principals at times. I was impressed with the way you had been drilled by your choreographer, moving about the stage well. One or two of the exits were a little slow (and sitting on the theatre's stage, as I was, we heard more of the backstage noise than we should have!).
TECHNICAL Alan Bowman used his experience to ensure that, for the most part, the show flowed well, with only a few slow exits when large numbers were attempting to leave after the big ensemble numbers (mainly those made into the Beecham Tower). Tony Critchley's set design allowed plenty of performing space and the suggested archways etc. on the main exit points created the necessary scene. Props went on and off without mishap. I don't know how many were made by Lindsey Ratcliff, but they were all very appropriate to the action. I guess that lighting an 'in the round' performance poses its own problems ‑ especially making sure you don't blind the audience who have paid to come and see the show! One of the special effects lights caught me at times, but I only needed to move my head slightly to avoid a full‑frontal attack, so no real problems. Congratulations to Alan Valentine on a good lighting design. Bronwyn Hodgkinson had an amalgamation of costumes from Midland Costumes and your own wardrobe. They all looked good under the lights and the uniforms were smartly pressed. Sara Bowring and Linda Peacock ensured the makeup was appropriate (although Gary's caused me to note 'check makeup' against his programme entry, even though now I can't remember exactly why!!). Phil Hoegger's sound design was probably the most important technical part of the show. It needed to ensure that the audience sitting on all four sides of the stage could hear, even when the actors were facing directly away from them. In the main this worked well with the principals ‑ just the occasional imbalances to which I have already made reference. Several of the full ensemble numbers suffered through the principals overpowering the subtler harmonies of the chorus and I am sure that will be addressed when future 'in the round' productions are planned. However, congratulations on trying something new ‑ and it worked with the dialogue!
FRONT OF HOUSE There was a welcoming FOH team on duty the night I came, eager to assist (and sell us our raffle tickets!). The interesting programme compiled by Ros used the wrong NODA logo, though (the crown is for 100 year old societies) and NODA HQ is now in Peterborough.
MELINDA BENNETT (Choreographer) I was very impressed with the general movement of the cast around the open planned stage and the way that the Chorus especially were placed to ensure we all had a 'fair share' of the faces. Well done.
RICHARD FURSTENHEIM (Musical Director) The vocal quality of the show was consistently good and your control of the orchestra ensured it never overpowered the singers.
ROS TAYLOR (Director) Congratulations, Ros, on attempting (and succeeding) with this production 'in the round'. All the hard work paid off and I hope you will be encouraged to try the format again.
Once again, thanks for inviting Jean and me to the show ‑ we had a most enjoyable evening and look forward to seeing 'Carousel' in November (either still as your NODA Rep or as a member of the public!).
NODA Rep, London Area 14