A DISAPPOINTMENT - the only way to describe Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society's double bill this week, "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "Trial by Jury." This, the society's golden jubilee year, started off well with a production some months ago of "Oklahoma". That was excellent. So I went along on Tuesday ready for a good night's entertainment. But the standard was not kept up.
First obvious mistake was to stage the more spectacular "H.M.S. Pinafore" as an opener and the much less colourful . "Trial by Jury" at the end of the programme. Instead of the expected climax - a diminuendo.
"Pinafore" did, show some talent, however. Tim Sheppard, as Sir Joseph Porter, acted well and David Fletcher, as Captain Corcoran, showed us his fine singing voice. Pat Harris as Josephine, the 'leading lady, also set a fine standard of singing but Rita Page, as Little Buttercup, was too throaty. One very moving scene was when Richard Rayment, playing Ralph Rickstraw, pronounced his love to Josephine. Their charming duet was well appreciated by the audience. Praise, too, for Tony Wood playing Dick Deadeye and Janet Fletcher playing Hebe.
"Trial by Jury" brought out, to my mind, unpardonable sins. For instance, that of taking the spotlight away from the soloist and taking the audience backstage. Chief sinner was the producer himself, Derek Collins, who played the part of the learned judge. In about three places he invented high jinks at the back of the stage so the audience stopped listening to the soloists. In this production Tony Wood, as the usher, came out very strongly as did Sven Tiernor as the defendant.
The chorus singing was excellent, all the way through, and mention must be made of the orchestra under its leader Ken Ferris, who seemed really in control of the music.
When an Operatic Society performed the tremendously patriotic Pinafore as their first public show no one thought that nearly 50 years later we would consider becoming Europeans. So it is with some nostalgia that we hear Bill Bobstay (Peter Sparkhall) declare with conviction, "But in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations, he remains an Englishman!"
The revival this week is well done. Not quite so well spoken as recent productions, but splendidly sung. Pat Harris, 'by virtue of her clear and delightful voice has 'fitted easily into first choice for the. top feminine jobs in most of the Gilbert and Sullivan works. Richard Rayment, as her lover, ascends the musical rigging as deftly as a good sailor should while Tony Wood, as the bent and misshapen Dick Deadeye, reveals a voice of quality and power at the other end of the scale.
As Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, Tim Sheppard is neatly in the picture. His diction is impeccable, his leaps and bounds are in the true traditional style but he is a little too stiffly austere for the full comedy of the part to come over. David Fletcher makes a handsome Captain Corcoran who never puts a foot wrong _ well. hardly ever - and Rita Page is a charming and authentic Buttercup. Peter Sparkhall (Bill), Edward Maltby (Bob) and Janet Fletcher (Hebe) are all in character but none are more composed and at ease than Master William Maltby, the tiny midshipmite. Bob Rew's lighting is smooth and professional and the hired scenery is adequate if not very inspired.
I was quite enchanted with Trial 'by Jury which followed HMS Pinafore. This little period extravaganza is beautifully done and I do hope they don't attempt to gild the lily as the week goes on. Jo Wood, as the Plaintiff, charms the audience as confidently as she does the male members of the Court. Sven Tjernor gives just the right impression as the swaggering and unpopular Defendant; Don Miller is an impressive Counsel and Tony Wood, now at his full height, is a full-voiced, richly comic Usher.
Derek Collins, as the amorous old Judge is as witty and polished as ever but as director, these two productions are, regrettably, his swan-song as far as Witham is concerned.
The lively, precise and enjoyable work of the chorus as sisters, cousins, aunts, sailors, bridesmaids and Victorian gentlemen bear tribute to his expertise. The orchestra, under the baton of Ken Ferris, seem better than ever and it is all a fitting finale to Witham's golden jubilee celebrations.