National Operatic & Dramatic Association London Area Report
25th November 2005
Society : Maidenhead Operatic Society (MOS)
Production : Princess Ida
Date : Friday 25th November 2005
Venue : The Desborough Suite, Maidenhead
Report by : Tim Bastock, deputising for Kim Halliday,
Regional Rep., London Area 14
I would like to start by thanking MOS for inviting me to review this production, in place of Kim Halliday, who was unfortunately unwell. This show is new to me, and, having read the synopsis of the plot, I was intrigued to see how it would fit in to the Edwardian setting chosen by the Director.
PETER KIDSON (King Hildebrand). Peter commanded attention as soon as he came on stage! A formidable and regal presentation, combined with Peter’s strong voice gave us a very convincing king. An excellent performance.
STEVE McADAM (Hilarion). This is one of those casting dilemmas: Hilarion must be a tenor, but is also required to be convincingly 22-year-old. Well, Steve is a very nice tenor (although perhaps a little shaky on some of the top notes tonight?), but I think was definitely stretching credulity slightly on the second requirement! Unfortunately, that’s how it goes with this type of production, however, and Steve coped quite well with singing and acting the part of the lovelorn prince determined to get his princess. Well done, Steve!
BOB SPOONER (Cyril). Bob worked well as one of Hilarion’s companions. His voice blended well with the others, giving us some very pleasing harmonies. He played the ‘getting drunk’ scene well, not being too over the top (a commonly-made mistake), and ‘gave the game away’ very naturally. The blazer was a sight to behold!
GARETH WATKINS (Florian). When we first saw Florian, complete with blazer and boater, I was struck immediately by his makeup – it did seem rather excessive for a chap, even one on stage. When, in the second Act, he got into drag, the transformation was startling. Suddenly, the makeup seemed quite appropriate and Gareth made a very convincing ‘Lay-dee’! On balance, though, I think the makeup was perhaps a little over-done, but his baritone voice blended nicely with the others in the ensemble numbers, and carried well in his solo numbers. A good characterisation.
GRAHAM WEEKS (King Gama). A typically understated performance from Mr. Weeks (!). King Gama is defined as being ‘twisted in body and warped in mind’… Graham certainly gave us the second attribute in abundance! The business with the earwax in ‘If You Give Me Your Attention’ was particularly graphic, and his interaction with the sons worked well for some very amusing comic effects. Not the finest of operatic voices, but, given the nature of this part, that was really not a problem (and was probably not called for) in this production. A very entertaining characterisation – well done, Graham!
PAUL SEDDON (Arac). Paul has a talent for singing a lot of very complicated words at speed and with amazing clarity. This, coupled with a natural talent for timing (especially of the comic variety), gave us a very entertaining characterisation, although I suspect a little more bulk is required to be convincingly ‘hulking’! Nice ad-libbed gag with King Gama and the muscles towards the end of the show, and his voice carried excellently over the orchestra and chorus in ‘This Helmet I Suppose’. An accomplished and slick performance, Paul – well done!
GREIG EMMETT (Guron). Greig was probably the most threatening of the three sons, stalking about the stage in a gratifyingly menacing manner. His vocal harmonisations worked very well with his ‘brothers’; a fitting and very appropriate characterisation.
KIT HOBSON (Scynthius). As a peeved ex-mariner running a health-food shop, this was a perfect interpretation, and something of a show-stealer! There was something of the clown here as well, which, taken in conjunction with Paul’s talent for the comic and contrasting nicely with Greig’s rather straighter manner, gave us a trio of extremely well-sung, amusing (if rather ‘un-hulky’) brothers. Another worthy contribution to the team effort.
EVE MACDONALD (Princess Ida). Eve gave us a most splendid presentation of a haughty princess; in fact, a synopsis of the plot that I came across during my research describes Ida as ‘… a Mighty Maiden with a Mission’, and I think Eve conveyed that impression quite capably! She was able easily to dominate the stage, and her voice was clear and expressive, especially in that most beautiful aria, ‘I Built Upon A Rock’. Her dialogue was a little rushed to start with, but as she settled into her role, the slight sense of nervousness evaporated and Eve turned in a most excellent performance.
CHRISTINE WELLS (Lady Blanche). It is always a treat to see (and hear) Christine in a performance; her deep voice is delivered with power during solo pieces, yet blends well with the other voices in ensemble pieces. This, coupled with a courtly stage presence, gave us a very convincing portrayal of the Lady Blanche, and a most convincing Professor of Abstract Philosophy (I got the distinct impression that you knew exactly what ‘the Mighty Must’ was all about!). Well done, Christine, another smooth performance!
CATHY BROOKES (Lady Psyche). Cathy brought to this role not only a beautiful voice, but also a sense of sympathy with the plight of the ‘young people’. A sensitive and caring characterisation well befitting a Professor of Humanities.
ELEANOR KERSHAW (Melissa). Eleanor’s portrayal of Melissa was very perky; here was a young lady rather obviously interested in Florian! Another beautiful voice and very convincing characterisation.
JULIA HIGGS, JOCELYN COWNLEY & CLAIRE IMRIE (Sacharissa, Chloe & Ada). These three, as other young lady graduates, worked well within their roles, responding well within and to the action around them, especially the ‘instruction’ they received from Ida.
MALE & FEMALE CHORUS (of Soldiers, Courtiers, Girl Graduates & Daughters of the Plough). I really couldn’t find anything to fault in this chorus: action was well observed and reaction was appropriate, harmonies were blended nicely and no one voice stood out from the others (which is exactly how it should be!). All in all, this was a well disciplined and confident chorus, enhancing the action and giving the audience a most enjoyable show.
DIRECTION (Kay Lord). Well, what a magnificent job Kay did for this show. I can only assume (as there is no mention in the programme of choreographer) that Kay was responsible also for choreography, giving us some nice humorous moments, such as when Florian is left with a chair as a dance partner! This was a cast that knew what it was doing and there was a very evident sense of team-work in the presentation to the audience. The problem with this type of production is that the principle parts are defined by their voice; Hilarion must be a Tenor (although I can’t help thinking that Gareth – alas, a baritone – would have made a better visual pairing with Eve). However, as I have commented earlier, that’s the way it has to be with Light (or any other form of) Opera. Was there just a passing nod in the direction of ‘Little Britain’ when Hilarion and co. became ‘Lay-dees’? The chaps did seem to be rather enjoying that part! It was interesting to hear the rather archaic phrasing delivered by Edwardian characters, and the fight scene between the brothers and Hilarion’s trio was very well presented. It was very evidently that all those involved in this production, both on stage and behind the scenes, worked very well together, and that is the hall-mark of good direction. Well done, Kay – a success!
MUSICAL DIRECTOR (David Hazeldine). David is very well experienced, both as MD and performer himself, and that showed very clearly in tonight’s performance. The principles and chorus all sang their parts accurately and with some superb and very confident harmonisation. The small orchestra made for a rather thin sound, and rather heavy reliance on the piano. There were one or two occasions when those on stage were a fraction adrift from the orchestra, but that didn’t detract in any significant way from the overall performance.
LIGHTING (Andy Nicholson & Crew). Andy faced an uphill struggle in getting this production appropriately and properly lit, mainly because of delays to the refurbishment works at the Desborough Suite, and I think praise and respect and most justly due for overcoming all those difficulties in so short a time! A big ‘Well Done’, also, to members of the society who, I understand, are responsible for the perfectly smooth whiteness of the cyc wall.
Tonight’s performance was beautifully lit. The creative and imaginative lighting of the cyc set the Railway Station scene for Act 1 perfectly, and for Acts 2 and 3, it really did look like the sun trying to break through light cloud –very impressive!
STAGE MANAGEMENT & PROPS (Paul Graham, Karen Newton, Sheila Mulford, Matilda Hobson).
The stage sets were kept simple and that worked extremely well (I gather that there was some doubt about whether the Desborough would be ready in time, hence the need for simplicity and flexibility) . This was a large cast, and ‘fussy’ sets make for too much clutter. A combination of lighting and some simple props left us in no doubt as to where the action was taking place.
WARDROBE, WIGS & MAKEUP. There were some interesting Edwardian blazers on view tonight – quite loud, in fact! Carrying the Naval motif through King Gama and his sons worked very well, although they did seem a little too modern for Edwardian era. The ‘schoolgirl’ costumes seemed more ‘St Trinians’ than Edwardian (were those pinafore dresses not a little too short for the times?). However, the ‘academic garb’ worked very well, especially with the wigs for Hilarion & co. when they became young ladies. Make-up was on-the-whole natural (apart for Florian (mentioned earlier), who did seem a little too OTT in the first Act, when not playing a ‘Lay-dee’!
PROGRAMME (Rosemary and Derek Roberts). The programme was nicely presented, with sufficient information about the production to enable newcomers as well as seasoned G&S fans to follow the plot. The addition of the glossary of the more obscure phrases in the libretto and historical notes made for a very informative programme. The cast resumes and photographs were clearly presented (although the name caption on the female chorus photo seemed to have gone somewhat awry), but the rehearsal photos were very good! Thanks also for including the piece about NODA.
FRONT OF HOUSE (Alf Bramley and Friends of the Society). As usual, I was warmly greeted by the Front of House team, especially important as this was the first time any of us had been required to find our way through the Town Hall main entrance!
To sum up, this was a reasonably competent and confident presentation of a lesser known but none-the-less charming and entertaining G&S Operetta, and an appropriate production with which to re-open the Desborough Suite for amateur theatre performances. On behalf of Kim, I wish you luck and look forward to seeing your next production, La Perichole.
25th November 2005