MD: Ken Matthews
Director: Richard Straw
Choreographer: Glynda Blackburn
Assistant MD: Philip Hall
It is always a pleasure to visit my friends at St Andrews Operatic Society and this year was no different and the added bonus was that their 2019 production of Thespis – The Gods Grown Old was also a premiere in the North. Thespis was the very first collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan and was written at the initiation of an artistic London showman John Hollingshead as a Christmas operatic extravaganza which opened at the Gaiety Theatre on 26 December 1871 and ran for 63 performances. Whilst the opera survives only in the form of a libretto with only two numbers from the original score surviving “Climbing Over Rocky Mountain” and “Little Maid Of Arcadee” the remaining of the music is made up of other Sullivan works. The story features a troupe of actors who climb Mount Olympus whilst on a picnic and discover the Roman Gods grown old and quite the inept rulers, they agree to change places which results in cosmic hilarity.
Bringing this lost opera buffo to reality was Director Richard Straw and for me this was a masterpiece, well directed and extremely entertaining. Music was in the capable hands of the musical director Ken Mathews ably assisted by Philip Hall as assistant musical director and Pam Bell as the accompanist they were accompanied by the societies fifteen piece orchestra which were excellent and truly professional as ever and I still feel patriotic at the beginning when the National Anthem is played before they delivered the powerful overture. Choreography was creatively delivered by Glynda Blackburn with some lovely routines which were suitable of style to content. Sound and lighting was good as were the costumes provided by Alan Graham which were both colour and styled in the correct period. The set and props was minimalist but helped to define the story line. I liked the programme which was very informative and gave a good synopsis of the history of the opera with additional information of the society; and finally a big thank you to the front of house team who always make sure that the warmth of greeting both to myself and the general public is paramount of the professionalism and quality of this society.
Playing the Gods were Andrew Cunningham as Jupiter, Father of the Gods as the leading actor he was excellent in this role a strong baritone voice meant that his singing reinforced his status of the Gods. Jen Bradshaw gave a confident performance as Proxima a star and I loved how this character opened the show introducing the God who all held candles which looked very effective. Anna Maria McCloskey delivered a striking performance as Diana Goddess of the Moon, great diction in her musical numbers and stage presence and I loved the musical number “Oh I’m The Celestial Drudge” with Mercury and Apollo. Dick Bradshaw gave a confident description as Apollo, God of the Sun as did Philip Hall as Mars, God of War, loved the earphones. Grace Ridley a new member to the society delivered for me the show’s stand out performance as Mercury messenger of the Gods, playing this trouser role she delivered a realistic fantastic and energetic performance commanding the stage each time she appeared and I loved how they made this character very hip and fashionable compared to the other Gods, vocally she delivered her musical numbers with confidence and conviction, I particularly like her solo number “”Olympus Is Now In Terrible Muddle” and her duet with Thespis “Life On Earth’s A Clever Toy” both delivered in my opinion to a professional standard. Playing the mortals were Richard Straw who delivered an outstanding and charismatic Thespis the manager of the Thessalian Theatre, confident portrayal of character and some lovely interaction with other cast members I particularly enjoyed his solo number “ I Once Knew A Chap” which was boldly delivered, playing his stage manager was Bernadette Trotter as Sillimon, great stage poise and characterisation I loved her musical number with the chorus “Of All Symposia The Best” which was well delivered and convincingly sang. Great performance and vocals from Sparkeion played by Steven Aitcheson, I loved the song “Little Maid Of Arcadee” which was one of the two original numbers which was proficiently sang, great interactions with his half married wife Nicemis played by Zoe Hall, and Daphne a former leading lady played by Julia Neale, who vocally has a fantastic range and mysteriously always draws me into her character whatever role she plays, the interaction between these female characters were Gilbert’s work at his best and both these ladies delivered excellent performances as their characters claimed Sparkeion as their husband which was dramatically and amusingly carried out. Playing the parts of the other mortals were Lizi Goodall as Cymon, Glynda Blackburn as Pretteia, Kim Storey as Preposteros, Paul Blakey as Timidon and Colin Irvine as Tipseion all delivered confident characters and added to the overall professional quality of the production. For me two of the finest musical numbers were the haunting and beautiful quartet “Your Diane, I’m Apollo” from the Gondoliers perfectly delivered by Nicemis, Daphne, Sparkeion and Thespis. And the other dramatic and vocally trio was “Oh Rage And Fury” professionally delivered by Mars, Apollo and Jupiter
The large supporting cast worked well supporting the principals in their roles of the travelling company and later as Deputy Gods and Muses, the balance of harmonies were as always perfectly delivered and they ensured that the production was visually well delivered with well executed entrances and exits and the director ensured that the chorus were well used to create some lovely stage pictures. Whilst I would describe myself as a novice in terms of operetta what I can be certain of was that when I left the Priestman Hall after the performance I do so with a huge grin and a light heart to what I would describe as a well delivered and exceptional performed show, well done to all the cast of St Andrew’s Operatic Society on an exceptional performance of Thespis.