Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ruddigore - not quite hitting the wall in the Marathon

From a superbly-produced professional production of a British Alan Ayckbourn farce, my companion and I moved on in the evening to a local non-profit theatre group (London Musical Theatre) production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Ruddigore".
The delights of these productions are different; the audience will largely be relatives and friends of the performers and other participants. Now this is not bad. It creates exactly the right enthusiasm. I make it a fairly firm habit to try to attend all these productions and enjoy them. And did this one.
I had never seen "Ruddigore". It was too long. The plot was somewhat all over the place. My companion appeared to be baffled by the show, but I think I got what Gilbert was up to; it is important to recognize his radicalism. I think it was the most stylized and abstract (and heartless) of the Gilbert book/librettos I have seen. The lead woman, Rose Maybud, is a foundling, who has grown up with a Victorian etiquette book - this leaves her constantly checking the book for literal guidelines on how to behave, and a very cynical calculational style about how to decide on the next step in life (especially choosing a husband). Actually it leaves her as an economist - she calculates explicitly what is available to her at each turn in the plot against its potential return and always chooses the highest benefit to herself.
The 'hero' has ducked his life's responsibilities. His right-hand man, returned from being a perfect British tar at sea, returns and betrays him, to get the girl.
So the good guys are all pretty dubious.
The bad guys are some baronets - we learn the current one has worked like a fiend to be good, despite constraints - and the crazy woman, who turns out to be quite a good person.
In any case, Gilbert's world here is topsy-turvy, and he knows it - he undermines and the whole plot is doing that. It is, however, sadly sloppy and excessive in the process.
And sadly, compared to the rest of my G&S experiences, the conclusion just pops up from nowhere, in terms of previous action. I'd really like to know whether Gilbert committed himself to a show and some dates and just could not produce a reasonable finish and so took what he had.
Now as to the production. London is so lucky that Victoria Gydov has moved there - she was wonderful, pretty good diction (very rare in roles like this), great singing accuracy. She played Rose Maybud. Mad Margaret was played by Rebecca Surman - the program notes say, "For a woman like Rebecca, playing Mad Margaret isn't much of a stretch". For me, she stole the show. That comment about her was wonderful. My companion and I speculated on what her drama students at Strathroy High School thought of her performance - I have no doubt many were among us last night. Her mother was fine in the key role of Dame Hannah, and I would single out Hilary Greer as Zorah, and Laura Meren as another bridesmaid (one plot conceit is that the town has an underused crew of preofessional bridesmaids - heaven knows where Gilbert thought that up - perhaps an excuse to hire a chorus of women for the show). (And you guys in the cast - sorry - find a woman to do a review.)
There are some interesting postmodernist touches. Gilbert rails against his own art style a few times. But of course, there are many who think that sort of thought is some great innovation from the academic community in the last few years - they are wrong. And his plots almost always rely in mischievous ways on stupid fine distinctions that are almost legal. Hmm - he was a lawyer.
This is a show worth watching - it runs another week.


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