Curtain Raisers: “Les Deux Aveugles” and “Cox and Box” At Wilton’s Music Hall

John Groves
Operetta Research Center
1 September, 2021

Opera della Luna, under the artistic direction of Jeff Clarke, has built a well-deserved reputation for staging inventive productions of ‘forgotten’ musical works of the last 150 or so years.

The auditorium of Wilton's Music Hall. (Photo: Wilton's Music Hall/Wikipedia)

The auditorium of Wilton’s Music Hall. (Photo: Wilton’s Music Hall/Wikipedia)

Running at Wilton’s Music Hall until 4 September is the company’s latest offering, a double bill of Curtain Raisers, short works that were often played before the main piece in Victorian and Edwardian theatres, until WW1. Both are some of the best works of their type, tuneful, lightweight and great fun!

Offenbach’s twenty-five minute “bouffonnerie musicale” The Two Blind Beggars (Les Deux Aveugles) was written for his Theatre des Bouffes-Parisiens in 1855 and concerns two supposedly blind beggars who turn up at the same pitch on a very windy bridge over the Seine.

Tim Walton and Paul Featherstone in “Les Deux Aveugles.” (Photo: Jacob Savage)

Tim Walton and Paul Featherstone in “Les Deux Aveugles.” (Photo: Jacob Savage)

Giraffier, a superb portrayal by Paul Featherstone, accompanies himself on a mandolin – in this production a ukulele – whilst Patachon plays the trombone, which Tim Walton actually did (loudly!), to much amusement.

In 1855, the show became the “must see” of the Paris season and helped launch Offenbach both as a composer and as a manager, even if, in truth, there is only one number that is memorable, and that so much so that one finds oneself singing it for hours afterwards …

Drawing for the cover of the piano-vocal score of Jacques Offenbach's "Les deux aveugles."

Drawing for the cover of the piano-vocal score of Jacques Offenbach’s “Les deux aveugles.”

The other actor in the piece plays all the passers-by: in this production hilariously so by Carl Sanderson, who says barely a word, but appears in a multitude of superb costumes.

The minimalist set design, showing Notre Dame, was the work of Elroy Ashmore, an ideal backdrop for this piece of frivolity which wears its years well!

Preceding this is Cox and Box a “musical triumviretta” by F. C. Burnand, based on Maddison Morton’s farce Box and Cox and Sullivan was supposedly inspired to compose the music for it by seeing a performance in London of The Two Blind Beggars.

The playbill for the 1869 production of "Cox and Box" at the Royal Gallery of Illustration.

The playbill for the 1869 production of “Cox and Box” at the Royal Gallery of Illustration.

Running for 60 minutes, it was first staged at the Adelphi Theatre in 1867, and later at “German Reed’s Gallery of Illustration” which only staged “refined” entertainment, suitable for families.

It tells the tale of a rascally ex-military landlord, Bouncer – sung very loudly by Carl Sanderson – who rents a room by day to Box who works at night, and by night to Cox who works during the day. As early as this first ‘operetta’ Sullivan is already pastiching other composers, in this case Donizetti, Verdi et al, in the recurrent “Ratapan” motif, which Bouncer sings whenever there are disagreements brewing.  Problems arise when Cox is unexpectedly given a day’s holiday…

Tim Walton, Carl Sanderson and Paul Featherstone in "Cox & Box," 2021. (Photo:  Jacob Savage)

Tim Walton, Carl Sanderson and Paul Featherstone in “Cox & Box,” 2021. (Photo: Jacob Savage)

Cox is delightfully and wittily played by Tim Walton, who not only has a gorgeous high baritone, but is also able to act and extract as much fun as possible from the, at times, rather dated libretto.

Box, Paul Featherstone, was hampered by a silly black wig, which not only looked false from his first entrance, it also refused to behave, becoming unglued and moving around his head, without actually falling off. I am convinced that this was unintentional, but was in fact very funny, and should be kept in. One could not but help watch the wig, even when concentration should have been elsewhere.

All three actors found the split level stage at Wilton’s difficult to use and one got tired of seeing them continually climbing steps from one level to the next – Les deux Aveugles just used the upper level so the problem did not arise – but, on the whole this was a hugely successful and most enjoyable evening.

The front door of Wilton's Music Hall in London. (Photo: James Perry/Wikipedia)

The front door of Wilton’s Music Hall in London. (Photo: James Perry/Wikipedia)

Mention must be made of Jacob Savage at the piano, and John Cuthbert at the, presumably electric blown, harmonium.

Strongly recommended, especially if you have never been to Wilton’s Music Hall, or have never seen Opera della Luna.

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There is one comment

  1. John Maskell

    Another excellent review from Mr.Groves and up to his usual high standards.