RUDDIGORE, Opera North, Sheffield Lyceum
AS assorted barmy bridesmaids skip about in gay abandon, singing silly choruses at the drop of a hat, and as jolly, stripy-topped Jack Tars horn-pipe merrily, improbable love stories, interlaced with multiple cases of hidden identity unfold before us.
For this is Ruddigore (or The Witch’s Curse), a frolicsome operetta by William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan! What else!
In this, cartloads of melodramatic silliness demonstrate the downright silliness of melodrama as we learn how goody-goodies sometimes turn out to be baddies and how baddies sometimes turn out good.
But amidst all the farce, a delicious deeper, darker side emerges in Act Two, and Opera North have reached the heights with some truly spectacular Gothic, Frankenstein horror and stunning Harry Potter magic.
Magnificent costumes achieve a wonderful feel for the period, and the fun, frolics and frights are, from start to finish, crisp, fresh and polished (though the piece is pretty long at 2 hours 40).
The orchestra is also splendid under the baton of young Timothy Henty, who’s obviously having a whale of a time himself as he sways large to the rhythm.
Singing voices too are superb. Particularly gorgeous and poignant is the duet between Dame Hannah (Gaynor Keeble) and the ghost of Sir Roderic Murgatroyd (Steven Page).
The fast, perfect patter of It Really Doesn’t Matter is also much enjoyed, while the comedy duo of Mad Margaret (Heather Shipp) and Sir Despard (Richard Burkhard) takes the Basingstoke prize for enjoyable lunacy. There’s a new tweak to the old-fashioned silliness too - unless Mr Gilbert had the gift of prophecy - in a verse about duck moats, Greek crises and a Mr Murdoch!
After a delightful, amusing introduction via flickering black and white silent movie sequences, projected on high, the first act sets are clean, simple and highly effective, taking us from bedroom to seaside (complete with Punch and Judy, deck chairs and men in bowlers and stripy bathing suits) and off to a packed church. Then, in Act 2, all Hell lets loose!
Lifting the show to the loftiest of heights are the special effects.
As mood and music turn dark, lightning cracks and flashes, capes and moustaches swirl and twirl, potions bubble, and all is shadow and threat.
Old servant Adam, transformed into a looming Frankenstein creation, lurches about with his axe.
Then, amazing to behold, eerily, convincingly, the portraits that line the castle room start to move, as ghosts appear, singing all the way, to dance in motley array with skeletons or even vanish into thin air.
Wonderful spectacle indeed and magnificently done.
* Eileen Caiger Gray