VIDEO: Melrose Opera: Patience

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  • by Geoff Evans

Problem 1. You are a producer of Gilbert and Sullivan operas and you have a production approaching for the umpteenth time.

Do you stick with a traditional approach and risk a bored audience, or do you try to modernise the piece away from its Victorian roots?

2. You have a company of performers who, while far from decrepit, are slowly approaching their sell-by date.

3. If you modernise, do you just bring the costumes up-to-date, or do you attempt something more root and branch?

Answer: Light-bulb moment. That is, if your name is Colin Smith. Just move everything forward many, many years and change the setting to one that is still credible.

A book fair with lovesick maidens becoming middle-aged groupies. The Dragon Guards, now retired, are holding a reunion. Scene set – let battle commence.

In the transmogrification, nobody escapes. The eponymous Patience, played beautifully by Anne MacFadyen in the title role, is changed from milkmaid to Refreshments Lady. Her confused feelings about her failure to experience love are portrayed with feeling in an outstanding performance.

Able support is at hand in the shape of the Festival Officials, Saphir (Elizabeth Wilson), Jane (Fiona McQueen) and Angela (Christine Speirs). Their wealth of experience is well demonstrated in both their timing and delivery.

Forward the Dragoons (retired) to play their forlorn suit, rebuffed, they retire, only to re-emerge in act II as fully fledged “teddy boys”, presumably on the assumption that if you can’t beat ‘em, the best thing is to join ‘em.

Barrie Cash (Colonel Calverley), Bob Smith (Major Murgatroyd) and Bruce Ogilvie (Lieut. The Duke of Dunstable) extract every ounce of humour from already-comic parts, their antics when hampered by the problems of movement posed by ageing are particularly comical (unless you are over 80!).

In the battle of the poets/authors, you get two of the big guns of the production in Grant Lees (Reginald Bunthorne) and Colin Smith (Archibald Grosvenor). If they ever missed the nuance or a laugh all evening, then so did I – this was G & S at its best, whatever the setting.

The company is lucky to have them both.

Two cameo roles – Bunthorne’s solicitor, played by David Jones, and the Lunchtime Recitalist (Sam Coe) – caught the attention.

The solicitor, by demonstrating that it is possible to get laughs wearing an everyday dark suit and a bowler hat, provided you get your timing right. The recitalist, by providing one of those rare instances of an orchestra must be venturing on stage. Sam Coe looked remarkably at ease, so much so that he might well have been a regular member of the cast.

Which brings me to the orchestra and musical director, Nancy Muir.

Nancy is no stranger to wielding the baton at Melrose Amateur Operatic Society productions. She imposes her imprimatur on the orchestra in a (usually) quiet, but firm manner. Looking back, one feels that instrumental competence has improved noticeably over the last 30 or 40 years.

This is an excellent show. Colin Smith’s leap of faith to move and update Patience has proved to be an inspired one. Not only that, but brilliant modernisation of, for instance, the Colonel’s song.

It is well worth a trip to come and see this alternative version.

Unless you are a diehard Savoyard, you will enjoy it – the staging is worth a visit in its own right.

Patience runs at Melrose Corn Exchange until Saturday (March 29).




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