Tag Archives: Meriel Cunningham




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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Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown



Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown

Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown

Online via www.kingsheadtheatre.com

Reviewed – 14th December 2020



“The talent on display longs to break out of the small screen and take to the stage again”


“Mirror mirror on the wall…” begins the Wicked Queen in familiar, heightened, camped up, Disney tones. The mirror is cracked and voiced by the inimitable comedy couple Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard, so any resemblance to the usual Snow-White tale is thrown out of the window for the next hour. The Queen brushes aside the pleasantries about who might be the fairest in the land; she wants to know how best to claw back all that money from furlough that she doled out throughout the year.

And so, the tone is set. But this is more than a mere retelling of Snow White with clever references to Lockdown, as the title might suggest. Last Christmas Charles Court Opera took the Nativity story and turned it completely on its head to joyful and triumphant effect. This year they have been forced to work behind closed doors, but their boundless, chaotic imaginations have not been restrained in the least and again, they have created a unique show dressed up in their distinctive style. It is difficult to continue this review without spoilers. But then again, I could probably describe the plot in detail for you and you’d still be none the wiser.

Snow White is a man in a frock, widow to the late, great King of Soul, Barry White. See what I mean? The Prince of Pretzel (aka Larry) wants to marry Snow White, but his valet Harry reminds him that she is a commoner and therefore beneath him. The Wicked Queen has other plans entirely. The seven dwarves are renamed due to Disney copyright. The poisoned apple is a box of Turkish Delight (or is it a bomb? Or a Pie?). When Larry and Harry meet Gary (the plumber, or could it be the Wicked Queen in disguise…?) things hot up. The jokes and innuendos are the only elements of predictability in this otherwise surreal and riotous romp through Fairyland. There is a family version or an adult version to choose from before you watch, though I suspect there is little difference between the two. A few profanities aside, it is soft-core enough to sit either side of the watershed. The enjoyment and the subversive sense of humour derives from the twists in the Pythonesque narrative, but above all in the performances of the company’s members.

Jennie Jacobs cuts a dusky figure as the Wicked Queen; an inspired cross between Penelope Keith and Cruella de Ville. John Savournin’s Snow White channels David Walliams in drag; but better. Savounin makes the character truly his own with a finely honed, deadpan self-deprecation. Like the rest of the cast, Emily Cairns as the Prince and Meriel Cunningham as the side-kick valet who turns into a toad, trailblaze through the show with expert comic timing and spot-on characterisation. And then there is Matthew Kellett, who has the job of playing the seven dwarves. His versatility borders on insane, especially when he delivers an Elton John pastiche, singing to his own corpse at the funeral of ‘Half Baked’ the dwarf. Indeed, the musical moments stand out. Each member of the cast, along with the chorus, is in fine voice. David Eaton’s lyrics are as inventive and topical as ever, pasted onto parodies that plunder popular culture. The highlight of the show has to be a brilliant ensemble mash up that, within a mere two and a half minutes, packs in The Beatles, A-Ha, Village people, Oasis and ‘Les Misérables’ among others.

The comic references, particularly to the pandemic, never hamper the action, which trundles towards a neat, morally strewn conclusion during which we are advised not to hide the power of “lurve” by Barry White himself (uncannily voiced by Marcus Fraser) from behind an animated cloud. We could almost be in Terry Gilliam territory.

Occasionally, though, the team’s ambitions outstretch them. The interactive elements, whereby we can select an option on the screen to determine the course of the action stall the flow. The teething problems inherent in the technology occasionally set us adrift. But once back on board we are again swept along. It is a shame, though, that we are not witnessing this show live. The talent on display longs to break out of the small screen and take to the stage again. But if this year’s offering is anything to go by, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next Christmas when, surely by then, we’ll all be back in a sold-out auditorium – which is what they deserve.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by  Ali Wright



Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown

Available to stream until 31st December from www.kingsheadtheatre.com


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