IT MAY be argued that Gilbert’s satirical swipes at the aesthetic movement are largely irrelevant today are understood by only a tiny fraction of the audience, and that, therefore, to update the period of “Patience” from the 1880’s to the Twenties can do no real harm.
Doris Griffiths saw ﬁt to put all her rapturous maidens in Twenties gear in her production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience” for the Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society (at the Public Hall all this week). There are those who would not change one gesture or piece of time-hallowed Savoy business (remember the fuss when the copyright was about to expire?) but well done, and carried through with style and confidence, new ideas are worth trying if not always successful.
The present production is a lively, sartorially colourful romp but that is about all. The men, apart from the Dragoons whose costume would have remained virtually the same (long letters from military historians not required, thank you), do not sport Twenties clothes nor is the scenery in period. You’d never believe that Bakst and Picasso were active stage designers at the time, judged from the solitary blight-ridden, woodworm eaten gloomy glade which has to suffice at Witham. Times is obviously very hard.
However, Ken Ferris persuades his orchestra to follow him tunefully and reasonably energetically and Doris Griffiths has inspired her players to act with verve and elan.
Notable performances are given by Tony Wood, Derek Collins and Anthony Gordon as militiamen and Geoff Coverdale (apart from attacks of amnesia on the first night) and Tim Sheppard were lovely poets. Pat Harris was a fresh and lively Dairy maid and Mesdames Page, Jones Day and Mayes were suitably rapturous.
I particularly liked the duet “Prithee, pretty maiden” and the arthritic dance of the elderly soldiers. If the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris were alive today they'd be offended, but Witham enjoyed it.
UTTERLY charming in their short, low-waisted frocks of the twenties and tossing their Marcel waves as they Charlestoned, the young ladies of the Witham Operatic Society stole the show. They also ruined it as far as I was concerned. Patience is a satire on the aesthetic craze of the 1880s and try and transplant a part of it into a period 40 years later seems to me just about as sensible as casting Mick Jagger as The Man for All Seasons.
So I resigned myself to admiring the pretty pictures - for producer Doris Griffiths’ grouping was ever admirable - some tuneful singing and, above all, the happy return of musical director Ken Ferris. His never-obtrusive orchestra was a delight to listen to and he handled the bouncy music with rare skill;
The Victorian dialogue, so terribly out of place, was neatly handled by most of the principals with W. S. Gilbert’s old and dearly loved jokes carefully underlined. Geoff Coverdale's Bunter-like Bunthorne was a little gem in a paste setting.
Tony Wood's Colonel had that clarity of diction so essential to his tongue-twisting patter song and Derek Collins‘ octogenarian Major, if he survives the week, will bring the housedown. Rosemary Mayes’ impressively deep contralto embellished the part of Jane and Anthony Gordon's lisping Duke was truly traditional. Tim Sheppard made a very Narcissus of Archibald and Rita Page (Angela), Helene Jones (Saphir) and Patsy Doy (Ella) were gracefully rapturous. Pat Harris brought her powerful voice, confident acting ability and charm to the title role but I thought it a pity that she was denied the attractive costume which so many of us remember with affection.
Those men of full habit, the Dragoon Guards, sang lustily and stamped about with a will; the scenery change was carried out with commendable economy and Robin Dedman‘s lighting was always, spot-on and sympathetic. What a satisfying show this would have been if they had carried out the playwright’s intention.