G&S’s “Patience” Presented by Charles Court Opera in an Updated Version

John Groves
Operetta Research Center
25 August, 2022

Charles Court Opera has been described as one of the leading and most versatile chamber music theatre companies in the UK and the “masters of G & S in small spaces”, according to their program. The artistic director is John Savournin, also responsible for the revival of this 2014 production and playing Bunthorne in the performance under review, amusingly menacing like a Goth Fagin! Originally a skit on the “aestheticism” of Oscar Wilde, Whistler and others, Patience can seem outdated today, but not in this production.

Scene from the 2022 production of "Patience". (Photo: Bill Knight / www.charlescourtopera.com)

Scene from the 2022 production of “Patience”. (Photo: Bill Knight / www.charlescourtopera.com)

Savournin has updated the original, setting it in a public house, The Castle, with Patience (Catriona Hewitson) as a barmaid rather than a dairymaid. On the whole this works very well, especially as Hewitson is superb in role, not just singing the music but making the most of Gilbert’s lyrics which are crystal clear.

The remainder of the cast uses the split-level stage at Wilton’s Music Hall well. Meriel Cunningham (Lady Angela) and Jennie Jacobs (Lady Saphir) are enabled, because there is no chorus as such, to make much more of their roles than is usually possible. Cunningham, especially, is lustfully sexy, and enjoys it! The ageing spinster Lady Jane (Catrine Kirkman) revels in this part, knocking back copious quantities of alcohol from the bar and wearing a wonderful wig ( at least I think it was) clearly showing the grey hair growing out from the roots.

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)

Colonel Calverly (Matthew Palmer), Major Murgatroyd (Dominic Bowe) and The Duke of Dunstable (David Menezes) are amusingly portrayed as ‘posh’ stereotypes each possessing attractive voices and singing off the words with superb diction.

Matthew Siveter revels in the role of Archibald Grosvenor. As well as a powerful, attractive, voice, he is a consummate actor who instinctively knows the style that G and S needs, even if he did not quite ‘ stop the show’ as he did recently at Harrogate!

In fact, what really strikes one is that, unlike ENO’s recent production of HMS Pinafore, Charles Court really appreciates how to make Gilbert and Sullivan work. The dialogue is beautifully spoken and often very funny, and the whole production has energy and that elusive quality: style!

Design is by Simon Bejer: perhaps the Goth costumes and make-up could have been more extreme? and very effective lighting is by Rachel E Cleary. However, the highest praise of the evening must go to David Eaton, the musical director, who made the rather weak toned grand piano sound as much like a full orchestra as possible!

Very highly recommended, and only at Wilton’s this week, before continuing to tour the UK.

For more information on Patience and its historical importance, especially in the context of the LGBT movement, click here.