PATIENCE at the Wilton’s Music Hall
“retains the wit and eloquence of the original while throwing in modern references and context”
“All art is quite useless”. So says Oscar Wilde in his preface to his only novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. Wilde may be considered the forerunner of the Art for Art’s Sake aesthetic movement of the late nineteenth century, yet it was William S. Gilbert’s libretto for the Gilbert and Sullivan musical “Patience” that helped to create the image that Wilde would adopt. The central character, Reginald Bunthorne, was thought to have been modelled on Wilde whereas it was, in fact, the other way round.
“Patience”, one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s lesser performed comic operas, is a gentle satire on the whole movement of the time, but also targets the ephemeral nature of fashion, hero-worship, vanity and meaningless fads. Which is why it lends itself so well to being set in today’s society. Charles Court Opera do just that with their customary skill and inventiveness. Set in an English pub called ‘The Castle’, complete with dartboard, real ale and shot glasses, designer Simon Bejer dresses the characters in a mix of Belle Époque, Goth and Steampunk. We could be anytime, anyplace, anywhere; but we know it’s pretty contemporary. The language, too, retains the wit and eloquence of the original while throwing in modern references and context.
Wilton’s Music Hall is a difficult space acoustically and often suffers when amps are plugged in. Charles Court Opera rely on just piano and the nine glorious voices of the company. Because of illness, director John Savournin has boldly, and rather magnificently, stepped into the role of the effete and flowery poet, Bunthorne. Fawning over him are the Ladies Angela, Saphir and Jane (Meriel Cunningham, Jennie Jacobs and Catrine Kirkman); a tight knit trio in perfect harmony but each with an individualism that allows them to break away into gorgeous solo moments. Particularly Kirkman who opens the second act with ‘Sad is that Woman’s Lot’, lamenting the cruel effects of time while desperately trying to ignore the temptations of the Walker’s crisps on the bar.
The male counterparts are equally impressive. Matthew Palmer, Dominic Bowe and David Menezes are the Dragoon Guards returning to reclaim their Ladies’ hearts, but to no avail. They tackle the quick-fire lyrical challenges with ease, turning each tongue-twister into finely tuned punchlines. Matthew Siveter, as the hilariously vain Archibald Grosvenor who steers the ladies’ affections away from Bunthorne, bursts with satirical humour, at first relishing the attention, then wearying of the synthetic textures of this thing called ‘romantic love’. After all, he only has eyes for his childhood sweetheart, the eponymous Patience (Catriona Hewitson). The barmaid of the Castle Pub, she is thankful she’s never been in love, seeing how miserable it seems to make everybody. Hewitson charms the audience with a simple logic, crystal clear delivery, and striking soprano; and winning our hearts with a standout ‘Love is a Plaintive Song’.
The delivery of the dialogue is sometimes overwrought and unnecessarily hammed up, which the comedy doesn’t really need. The cast have enough presence to reach the far corners of the hall. We feel their joy too as. When “Patience” opened in 1881, Gilbert thought the show’s appeal would prove just as ephemeral as its subject matter, and wouldn’t be appreciated in years to come. Thankfully, Charles Court Opera have proved him wrong with their classy, timeless, imaginative and virtuosic production.
Reviewed on 24th August 2022
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Bill Knight
Previously reviewed at this venue: