Pub Patience

14 Jun

I’ve so far avoided the small scale opera in pubs trend that’s cropped up in London over the last few years. There are lots of reasons: the venues tend to be out of my way, the operas ones that I know pretty well and, to be frank, if I’m going to hear them, I prefer them to be with a full orchestra in a comfortable, air conditioned theatre rather than with a piano, on benches in an overheated pub.  I’ve no doubt that you can get a lot from the intimacy of the experience, but you miss a lot as well.  However, Charles Court Opera is currently doing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at the KIng’s Head and, performances of Patience being scarce and it being in my top three or four G&S favourites, I thought I’d see what it was like and went to the performance on 13th June.  You couldn’t imagine a much greater contrast to Rosenkaverlier at Glyndebourne the night before.

Patience has Gilbert’s finest libretto and one that seems to work perennially.  It’s a satire on the aesthetic movement but, more importantly, on fashion and pretension.  Musically, it may not have same level of sure-fire hits as some of the others, but there isn’t a weak number in the piece and the scene for the dragoons dressing up as aesthetes is among their greatest comic moments.  It’s also from the pre-Savoy period when casts were smaller and scenic requirements less lavish.  It’s a very easy one to have a lot of fun with.

This show was, actually, better than a lot of fun.  John Savournin’s nine-person and a piano production found a way of making the cramped location work so that you barely missed the accoutrements of chorus that we’re used to.  He’d set it in a pub.  Patience is the barmaid (rather than the milkmaid), the twenty lovesick maidens become three “melancholic maidens” and they, together with the three dragoons supplied the chorus.  It was fine.

Even better was the sense of style, the gentle updating and the wit and good ideas.  The cast was alert, were as skilful with the dialogue as with the singing and understood how to put the piece across. The pub setting worked nicely – the ladies singing “Ah misery” as they poured another drink, Lady Jane deciding not to help herself to a bag of crisps before launching into the second verse of her Act II number about putting on weight and the ladies as Goths.

It was a nice cast.  Joanna Marie Skillett was a delight in the title role.  Patience is probably the stupidest of Gilbert’s heroines, which says quite a lot, but she conveyed the simplicity in the dialogue beautifully and sang her Act II number really well, with complete sincerity.  I’d happily see her again.  Ditto Henry Manning’s Grosvenor.  He managed the lines about his manly beauty to perfection simply because he wasn’t worried about making them funny.  He has a nice baritone and a good wit and some real talent.  Amy J Payne as Lady Jane could possibly have been larger and more of a battle-axe than her colleagues, but the voice suits the role and she was very funny indeed.

Of the others, Helen Evora and Andrea Tweedale were very funny as the other ladies and I very much enjoyed David Menezes’s clear, attractive tenor as the Duke.  Together with Giles Davies’s excellent Calverley and Michael Kerry’s Murgatroyd, this was very funny, believable trio of officers.

My one slight doubt was over David Phipps-Davis’s Bunthorne.  He had a lovely time camping it up and doing a lot of the obvious things very well.  He was very funny and put the words and music across well.  I wondered, however, whether there isn’t another way of doing this role – one where he was less knowingly ridiculous.  I felt he tried a bit hard and that a quieter approach could have been even more effective and, possibly, what Gilbert was getting at.

David Eaton accompanied valiantly on the piano – making me aware of how like Schubert’s lieder accompaniments they sounded.  He couldn’t get the effects of the orchestrations, but in this environment it didn’t matter.

Now this Patience worked because of its setting – in a larger setting, rather like The Mikado in Hastings last year, the absence of a chorus and orchestra would have been missed and the more intimate gestures and acting would have been lost.  It’s difficult to judge, in a place, this size whether these singers would survive in a larger auditorium – though I’m pretty sure that Mr Manning and Ms Skillett would have a very good chance.  That, however, doesn’t make it necessarily any worse.  I had a lovely time, relishing the opera (as with all good G&S performances, I came out thinking that Patience is my favourite), enjoying the wit and the confident performance.  I didn’t have to make allowances.  I also felt that, maybe, I ought to give some other small scale performances of opera a try sometime and that I might get something out of them that I wouldn’t necessarily get from the ROH.  it was worth the uncomfortable seats and the very hot auditorium.

There were seats available at this performance.  The run is on until the 28th.  We don’t see Patience enough.  If you like G&S, I’d strongly recommend you to go.

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