Patience, one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most well known works, was first performed in 1881 at the Opera Comique in London. With music composed by Arthur Sullivan and book by W.S Gilbert, the opera is a satire on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and 1880s in England.
In his program notes, director Frank McCarty also comments that no character is immune to parody and that all of the characters are in some way ‘superficial, pretentious and lacking independent thought’. The military are also shown as stereotypes, the poets as ‘charlatans of their age, maintaining the veneer of an aesthete while not believing what they preach’, and Patience, a milkmaid who does not know the meaning of love, and sees love as a duty. In today’s terms, think ‘The Bachelor’ the musical. At one point, McCarty’s subtle modern touches included a red rose moment.
The story begins with a group of lovesick maidens, who dote on aesthetic poet Reginald Bunthorne as they wait to hear him give his daily recitation. He is in love with Patience, who cannot understand love or the state of the maidens. The maidens have given up their sweethearts, all members of the Dragoon guards, who also have great difficulty understanding the obsession with the poet. A rival for Patience’s affection arrives in the character of Archibald Grosvenor, her childhood love. There is much discussion and song about love, and the two realise they cannot be together as it would be too perfect. Bunthorne proposes to raffle himself off to the maidens, but is stopped as Patience declares her affection for Bunthorne. Archibald then becomes the centre of attention for the maidens, which results in further confusion for all. Archibald eventually decides to become an ordinary man and Patience declares her love for him. The maidens all go back to their Dragoon Guards and Bunthorne laments his lot as a single man.
In order to be asked to direct any G&S, one must have an understanding of the genre, context and humour to be derived from the piece, with permissible current additions. Director Frank McCarty has stuck to a very traditional path in directing Patience for GSOV’s 80th anniversary year. On a simple, one set stage, McCarty’s direction makes full use of the space and the company work hard to deliver song, dialogue and dance. Musical director Greg Hannan conducted a large orchestra of nearly 20 pieces, which gave a strong and full sound. Lighting by Frank Crose was effective and subtle. Costumes by Marie Klein and Susan Marshall were effective and appropriate. Stage manager John Larcombe ensured that the technical aspects of the production were smooth and without fault.
The female leads and ensemble were in fine voice. Although they sang the lyric, “20 lovesick maidens we”, there were only 11 that I could count on stage. It was encouraging to see a number of younger performers in their first or second G&S show, which gives hopes that the ranks will build to 20 in future productions. Andrea Tappe as The Lady Jane, Emily Crawford as The Lady Angela, Naomi Tooby as The Lady Saphir and Kristen Ryan as The Lady Ella were all impressive and worked well together. Sabrina Surace as Patience demonstrated her experience and musical training, whilst still bringing an innocence and charm to the role. The male leads were comical and well cast. Paul Tooby as Colonel Calverley, Robin Halls as Major Murgatroyd and Brett O’Meara as Lt The Duke of Dunstable ensured that the audience recognised the stereotypical member of the British military. Ron Pidcock as Bunthorne and Andrew Blair as Archibald were true to the artistic intent of their roles. It is interesting to note that many of the cast are also talented musicians who play for many of musical theatre shows and tend to perform on stage solely with GSOV.
The company began the season with an ‘out of town tryout’ at the Dunolly Town Hall last week and will complete the season after this week at the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre with a performance in Mount Beauty on October 24th.