Tag Archives: Matthew Palmer




Wilton’s Music Hall

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:


Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Child in the Snow | ★★★ | December 2021
The Ballad of Maria Marten | ★★★½ | February 2022
Starcrossed | ★★★★ | June 2022

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The Mikado – 5 Stars


The Mikado

King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 27th March 2018


“This production has no weak points, and provides frequent moments of genuine hilarity”


The Mikado was first performed in 1885, when the British Empire was at its height, and Japan was seen as an utterly alien but intriguing nation. Japanese objects and artefacts were all the rage, and Gilbert and Sullivan tapped into this Japanophilia to satirise English governmental bureaucracy – creating a sort of 19th century musical version of Yes Minister.

In this current production, by the Charles Court Opera at The King’s Head, Glenn Miller’s jaunty hit, Chattanooga Choo Choo, plays as we take our seats, and places us firmly in the 1940s. Together with the gentle amber glow of the stage, carpeted and comfortably furnished with a Chesterfield sofa and other accoutrements of a gentleman’s club of the period, the tone is set for this tremendous production, which sparkles with joy and warmth. The choice of setting also sensitively and cleverly deals with the potential pitfalls of cultural appropriation, with Rachel Szmukler’s beautiful painted Japanese-style wall panels providing the perfect visual reference point in an otherwise British colonial environment. The cast – with the notable exception of Philip Lee’s splendid déclassé outsider Ko-Ko – speak and sing in heightened RP, which pokes affectionate fun at this most ludicrous of stories, whilst at the same time celebrating its enduring appeal.

It is clear from the first number that we are in good hands; the three opening singers (Matthew Palmer, Philip Lee and Matthew Kellett) in fine voice, relish the crisp fun of W. S. Gilbert’s peerless lyrics, and Damian Czarnecki’s choreography is tight and snappy to match. David Eaton’s faultless accompaniment, from an upright piano in the corner of the stage, sets the pace, and never lacks energy, even in the few moments when the operetta’s frenzied clip gives way to a more romantic or contemplative interlude. John Savournin directs with surety and panache, and David Eaton’s musical direction, plus superlative work from the show’s young cast, ensure that not a word or note is lost. This surely is the way to see Gilbert and Sullivan, in order to savour every fabulous rhyme and cherish every melody in this frenetically brilliant score.

This production has no weak points, and provides frequent moments of genuine hilarity, not least in the terrific contemporary updates in the perennial favourite ‘I’ve got a Little List’. In the midst of such a rollicking good time it can often be difficult to carry the audience into more poignant territory, but this is ably done throughout, and special mention must go here to the wonderfully affecting rendition of Katisha’s solo ‘Alone and yet alive’ by Matthew Siveter. Alys Roberts and Jack Roberts are perfectly cast as the young lovers Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo; Alys Roberts’ exquisite soprano ranging effortlessly from effervescence to sweet romance, and blending beautifully with Jack Roberts’ crystal clear tenor. Matthew Palmer, Matthew Kellett and Philip Lee are terrific throughout, both vocally and comically, and Jessica Temple and Corinne Cowling fizz with girlish glee as Yum-Yum’s companions. Whether you are are new to The Mikado or already a fan, this production simply cannot be bettered. It deserves every accolade that will undoubtedly come its way.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Bill Knight


The Mikado

King’s Head Theatre until 21st April



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