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: