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Wilton’s Music Hall

RUDDIGORE at Wilton’s Music Hall



“A mixed bag, some ingredients working better than others. And the overall flavour is certainly enhanced in the magical surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall.”


“Ruddigore” or “The Witch’s Curse” was originally spelled “Ruddygore”, but the title was changed because people (I’m guessing a small vocal minority) were offended by the use of the word ‘Ruddy’. And there we all were thinking that umbrage was a twenty-first century invention. Nevertheless, both Arthur Sullivan and William Gilbert were of the opinion that their ‘supernatural opera’ was not, perhaps, their finest hour. Despite a long hiatus – of over thirty years – between its premiere and its first revival, it has still managed to survive. Possibly the couple were too hard on themselves, for there is much to admire and savour in this madcap oddity of a comic opera.

It bears all the hall marks of the stock melodrama. The villain who carries off the maiden, the virtuous heroine, the hero in disguise, the snake in the grass, the wild and mad woman. And ghosts and their curses. It is certainly advisable to brush up on the basic plot before attending Peter Benedict’s current revival of the musical. The offbeat libretto isn’t only to blame – the delivery is often unclear, particularly during the ensemble moments and especially when Gilbert’s tricksy, ‘topsy-turvy’ lyrics launch into breakneck mode.

At the heart of the story is the curse of Ruddigore. Centuries before, the first Baronet of Ruddigore persecuted witches, one of whom placed the curse. All future Baronets must commit one crime every day, or die in agony. The current Baronet has faked his own death years before to avoid inheriting the curse, leaving his younger brother with the deadly burden. Returning to the scene under an alias he is soon rumbled. Well – with a posse of unemployed bridesmaids, loose-tongued confidants, long-lost brothers, and a love interest that re-defines the word ‘fickle’; what could possibly go wrong?

Joe Winter is charm personified as Robin Oakapple though really Ruthven Murgatroyd, the Baronet who has shirked his criminal responsibilities. It takes seconds for Madeline Robinson’s deliciously, innocent yet pragmatic Rose Maybud to fall for him. Seconds later she is betrothed to Robin’s long-lost, cocksure brother. When the other, younger brother appears and has his wrongfully placed curse lifted, Rose decides she’d actually prefer him as a husband. Yes – really! It is ridiculous, often funny, but could be much more fun if the pace were to keep up with the elements of farce surrounding the absurdity. There is an innovative, anachronistic opener which places the action in the present before being whisked into Victoriana, but bizarrely this is not followed through. Had it done so, the script’s rather abrupt ending could have been smoothed over.

It is a show of two halves. After interval, the tone darkens and allows for some technical trickery courtesy of video designer Tom Fitch. The spookiness is underplayed but the surrealism is cranked up somewhat, and the dead duet with the living. Musical Director Tom Noyes leads the musical accompaniment; an ensemble comprising some of the cast, a few click tracks and violinist Luca Kocsmárszky who plays on stage, perched on the fringe of the action, watching – and seemingly judging – throughout.

A mixed bag, some ingredients working better than others. And the overall flavour is certainly enhanced in the magical surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall. You’re not quite sure what to expect. So, at least there aren’t expectations for it to live up to. Taken with a pinch of salt, there is plenty to enjoy and discover. It was written with tongue in cheek and, if viewed in the same way, it has great entertainment value. Not to mention the genius of Gilbert and Sullivan which informs this eccentric libretto and score.


Reviewed on 17th March 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Mark Senior



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Charlie and Stan | ★★★★★ | January 2023
A Dead Body In Taos | ★★★ | October 2022
Patience | ★★★★ | August 2022
Starcrossed | ★★★★ | June 2022
The Ballad of Maria Marten | ★★★½ | February 2022
The Child in the Snow | ★★★ | December 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021


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Once Upon a Mattress


Finborough Theatre

Once Upon a Mattress

Once Upon a Mattress

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 7th March 2020



“songs are bold and brassy, but with moments of pathos and humour”


A Broadway hit from 1959 (book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer), Once Upon a Mattress is a musical comedy based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea. Or rather, it takes the essence of that story and has a whole lot of fun elaborating it.

It’s the year 1428 and Prince Dauntless (Theo Toksvig-Stewart) wants to be married, but his domineering, utterly insufferable mother – Queen Aggravain, brilliantly brought to life by Julia Faulkner – wants to keep him for herself, believing no other woman will ever be good enough for her precious son. Perfectly adequate princesses are unfairly rejected for failing the queen’s impossible tests in a pattern that seems destined to repeat itself forever. But when the 13th contender arrives, everything changes.

Beth Burrows is stunning as the sassy, irreverent Princess Winnifred the Woebegone – an exotic creature from the marshlands. Not only is she incredibly animated and full of energy, but she also has perfect comic timing and makes every moment count. There’s a real sparkle in her performance that makes her very compelling to watch.

Steve Watts as King Sextimus has the challenging role of having to communicate only with hand gestures and facial expressions, owing to being under a spell that prevents him from speaking. Given that, it’s remarkable how well he articulates emotion and communicates so lucidly with both the cast and audience.

A six-piece band led by Jessica Douglas provides a lively and often ambitious musical accompaniment that’s punchy and precise. Mary Rodgers’ songs (with lyrics by Marshall Barer) are bold and brassy, but with moments of pathos and humour. They are clever, too – see ‘The Minstrel, the Jester and I’, which plays with the notion of the king being mute by leaving spaces at the end of certain lines in place of the rhyming lyric you expect to hear.

Giulia Scrimieri’s simple yet fluidly effective set features a couple of platforms for dancing on, and screens that can be wheeled around. Colourful and inventive medieval costumes also add to the sense of vibrancy.

There are plenty of laughs, but the plot is sufficiently well constructed that there are several interwoven strands to be followed through. One thread isn’t quite tied up: we see the minstrel charm the wizard into revealing the secret test for the princess, but then Winnifred appears to pass it without any assistance. Being a ‘real’ princess she’s sensitive enough that a single pea beneath 20 mattresses prevents her sleeping, and the minstrel’s plan for her to cheat is bafflingly not referred to again. However, this little mystery in no way impairs the enjoyment of a continually rewarding experience.

Another major plus point is the way that each character, from the jester to the minstrel narrator, is given their own moment of focus. This even-handed character development keeps your interest throughout while helping the show build to a hugely satisfying resolution.

Ably directed by Mark Giesser, Alces Productions’ Once Upon a Mattress is a funny and joyful production of this rarely seen gem.


Reviewed by Stephen Fall

Photography by Andreas Lambis


Upstairs at the Gatehouse thespyinthestalls

Once Upon a Mattress

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 29th March


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Strike Up The Band | ★★★★ | March 2019
The Marvelous Wonderettes | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flat Out | ★★★★ | June 2019
Agent 14 | | August 2019
Pericles, Prince Of Tyre | ★★★ | August 2019
Working | ★★★★ | September 2019
A Modest Little Man | ★★★★ | October 2019
I Do! I Do! | ★★★½ | October 2019
42nd Street | ★★★★ | December 2019
Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny | ★★★★ | February 2020


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