Sorcerer casts unforgettable spell in Melrose

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IT would be no exaggeration to say that Melrose Amateur Operatic Society’s 2011 production of The Sorcerer goes with a bang ... or several of them to be precise, not to mention frequent flashes and miasmic mists.

All this is producer Colin Smith’s take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s earliest full-length collaboration, which opened to enthusiastic acclaim in the Corn Exchange on Monday.

Society stalwart Smith has moved the action from the Victorian era to the 1920s, thus achieving a lighter, brighter, flapper-type ambience on stage.

The story of the opera revolves around the first appearance of Gilbert’s “magic lozenge” plot – a recurring fixation which caused much friction with Sullivan in later years.

In this case the “lozenge” is a teapot containing a love philtre. This has been produced by the Sorcerer, John Wellington Wells, at the behest of the two starry-eyed (and sufficiently soppy for a Victorian audience) lovers who wish to share their vision of happiness with the unwitting villagers of Ploverleigh. They are caused to fall asleep and fall in love with the first person they see upon waking.

This being a Gilbertian plot, needless to say the results are both catastrophic and hilarious, with most of the second act devoted to restoring the status quo at the expense of a life – but whose?

In an interesting production variation, the choruses, both men’s and women’s, are divided into upper- and lower-class groups, and, in a very nice touch, are given individual names, all taken from other G&S operas. Under the guidance of musical director, James Young, they were entirely cohesive and gave performances of a very high order.

This year there have been one or two changes amongst the principals, though several able stalwarts remain.

Philip Henderson, a resolute and vocally splendid Alexis is partnered this year by Sally Crighton as Aline. She also has a fine voice and her mobile and expressive features add no end of lustre to her performance.

Gilbert always poked fun at his elderly ladies, making them battleaxes with more than a hint of vulnerability. Elizabeth Wilson, as Lady Sangazure has the requisite skill to master both aspects of the role. Fiona McQueen, another seasoned performer, shows her customary verve in bringing the part of Mrs Partlet to life. Nancy Muir, another experienced member of the cast gives a delightful performance as Constance, her high notes as bell-like as ever in their clarity.

Barrie Cash plays Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre with suitable patrician poise and aplomb. Richard Halpin as the deaf old notary raises quite a few laughs, notably in his duet with Constance.

Yet another veteran of G&S productions, Grant Lees, is at his impeccable best as Ploverleigh vicar Dr Daly, giving virtually a masterclass in light comedy. He demonstrated ever so clearly how stage presence can be achieved without even raising one’s voice.

So to Colin Smith the actor. If anyone is entitled to say “been there, done it!” about G&S acting, this is the man. His wheeler-dealer Wells, with a London accent coupled with a touch of Fagin is a masterpiece of character realisation. Additionally, quite apart from his fine voice, he has developed the knack of never really repeating himself in performance, so audiences are always treated to a new facet of this jewel in Melrose Opera’s crown.

This year brings a surge of youth to the company. Young Sean Crighton brightened the stage with his performance as the sorcerer’s apprentice, the diminutive, (beside J.W. Wells,) Hercules. In a splendid addition to the incantation scene, seven young girls danced delightfully, appropriately equipped with horns and tails.

There is always a danger that the backstage and front of house teams are taken for granted when things run smoothly. As usual the production ran flawlessly, so many thanks must go to the less visible elements of the team.

The Sorcerer continues in the Corn Exchange, concluding on Sunday night. The curtain goes up at 7.30pm.

Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre – Barrie Cash; Alexis – Philip Henderson; Lady Annabell Sangazure – Elizabeth Wilson; Aline – Sally Crighton; Mrs Partlet – Fiona McQueen; Constance – Nancy Muir; Dr Daly – Grant Lees; Notary – Robert Halpin; John Wellington Wells (the Sorcerer) – Colin Smith; Hercules – Sean Crighton.

Ploverleigh personnel: Fairfax – John Wilson; Mrs Cripps – Christine Speirs; Despard – Paul Baxter; Mabel – Carol Davidson; Edith – Penny Blackburn; Kate – Anne Lyal; Mr Becket – Robin Bell; Mr Bobstay – Donald Gordon.

Lord Tolloller – Tony Watson; Lady Tolloller – Ruth MacDonnell;

Fiends of the night – Kirsty Davidson, Ellie Morgan, Honor Brett, Georgy Dagg, Josephine Paterson, Danika Green and Fern Graham.

Society ladies – Ros Anderson, Geraldine Rowley and Yvonne Eade; Major Murgatroyd – Robert Turnbull; Captain Corcoran – Bruce Ogilvie;

Flappers – Anne MacFadyen, Linda Stark and Jean Denholm; PC Willis – Bruce Hislop; Miss Carruthers – Hilary Ford; Mr Goodheart – John Wilkinson; Mrs Goodheart – Lesley Trotter.

Producer – Colin Smith; musical director – James Young; accompanist – Alison Kay