Using the Round Church to its advantage, Ruddigore enthralls with its precise emotional palette.Dik Ng with permission for Varsity

With any Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, the cast and crew must make a decision on how straight to play the absurd events and pun-laden words: if the actors knowingly lean into the humour too much, it can rob a production of the precise, calculated wit of Gilbert’s libretto, but if they approach the opera entirely dramatically, the lightweight plots can seem flimsy instead of whimsical. Luckily, director Mark Holland manages to walk the tightrope between drama and humour in his production of Ruddigore — an opera in which a curse on a line of lords compels them towards evil, wreaking havoc on the personal lives of the local townspeople — and the cast make sure to exaggerate the over-the-top personalities and scenarios, but never at the expense of the serious moments or the integrity and emotion of the characters.

The precision with which the personalities of the characters are distinguished, allowing the different views on life (and therefore the thematic content of the play) to be made clear is apparent from the opening scenes, when we are introduced to the chorus of bridesmaids, led by Zorah (Ellie Worth) and Ruth (Ina Krüger). They maintain a chirpy energy throughout the performance that frequently had the audience in stitches, especially when alongside Dame Hannah (compellingly played with a sort of restrained mania by Heidi Homewood) and her niece Rose (Sophie Ellis), who maintains a sense of primness even in the face of the mounting absurdity of the plot. The duo functioned as an effective foil to the other characters to great effect. The subtle differences in the attitudes of the characters towards the constant plot twists do well to inject personality into characters who could easily come off as two-dimensional.

“Mark Holland manages to walk the tightrope between drama and humour”

As is necessary to heighten the humour of the opera through calculated juxtaposition, this production makes sure to lean into its dramatic moments with the right amount of gravitas and complete sincerity. The Round Church was an inspired choice of venue (the incorporation of its carved stone faces into the production was a stroke of genius), and the production team made the best of what must have been a difficult space to light. Sometimes the lighting could seem a little harsh in its brightness, but when the story veered into darker, more Gothic territory, the sickly green or purple shining on the columns created suitably melodramatic shadows to accentuate the material. This drama was at its most striking when Tom Unwin’s Sir Roderic sang his solo, Sullivan’s most distinctive and haunting melody from this opera, breathtaking in its passion and Gothic excess. The acting managed to play with this too — Rob Nicholas and Harry Elliot did convincing jobs conveying both the good and “bad baronet” versions of their characters, playing the evil side as moody goths, deftly employing this more modern archetype to depict their unhappiness with their evil deeds without coming across as anachronistic.

Just as the Gothic darkness contrasted with the humour to make the evening more cathartic, so did the sentimentality of the opera. What could easily have become either maudlin or glib was handled with extreme tenderness. Moments like Rose’s proposal from Richard (Tiffany Charnley, showing off immense range in how easily she can flit between Richard’s smarmy charm and genuine passion, as well as impressing the audience enormously in the hornpipe dance with Rob Nicholas) and the climactic wedding near the end of Act 1 manage genuine tenderness. That wedding reached almost hypnotic heights thanks to the beautiful music (which was largely excellent throughout, although sometimes the incredibly difficult, faster-paced songs were not as clearly enunciated as they could have been) and the circular choreography, which made excellent use of the difficult performance space of the church.


Mountain View

Night of January 16th: engaging premise carries a somewhat stilted drama

The exactness of this production conveys a very deep understanding of the opera on the part of the director, Mark Holland, and the team in general. The elegant balance of different tones within the production clearly heightens the audience’s understanding of the recurring themes of the work (such as the banality of evil and the fickle nature of simply following one’s heart) without ever becoming clunky and, whilst the Round Church has its challenges as a venue, it is perfect for accentuating the melodramatic side of the play.

Ruddigore is playing at The Round Church from Thursday 27th to Saturday 29th April, 7:45pm