"I hate Gilbert & Sullivan, you know I do," moans Kevin in The Ghosts of Ruddigore. The question is: will you after seeing Opera Della Luna's production? The modern adaptation an amalgamation of the writing duo's original 1887 Ruddigore, D'Oyly Carte's 1920 revision and Luna's own innovations - which, taken together, create an uneasy fusion that seems to be tongue-in-cheek but leaves the audience unsure.
When Amanda and Kevin, members of an amateur G & S society on a research trip in Cornwall, have an automotive breakdown in the dead of night, they soon find themselves caught up in a G&S operetta (or is it a comic opera?). A team of ghostly bridesmaids, looking like they waited on Miss Havisham, tempt Kevin to woo Rose Maybud, the fickle Victorian lovely. But will she marry him, the strapping sailor Dick Dauntless or perhaps the accursed Sir Despard Murgatroyd? The last, a luckless baronet, is the victim of a family curse that requires him to commit a daily crime in order to avoid a horrible death. Is Kevin related to him and subject to the same curse? Who will Rose chose? Do we really care? No. The plot is just an excuse for warbling lots of unremarkable G&S tunes.
Often, the problem with Gilbert & Sullivan offerings is the low production values - it always looks am dram. That's true here too, certainly during the first half when the creaky set rates on a par with an end-of-pier panto (not helped by Jenny Arnold's sketchy choreography). After the interval, things shape up a bit, particularly during my favourite scene, when singing family portraits jump down from the wall for a knees-up in the production's sole moment of show-stopping potential. The rest, despite noble efforts from the cast, is disappointing. Trying to send up melodrama is dangerous as it can begin to look like bad melodrama.
Jeff Clarke's direction is dynamic, but we get different levels and styles of playing within the piece that leave it feeling unbalanced. Full marks must go, however, to Whatsonstage.com Award winner Craig Purnell, as Dick, who valiantly keeps the energy up despite the restrictive tattoo body suit, and to John Griffiths as the most grotesque and hilarious of the bridesmaids. Sadly, Kathleen Schueppert's high-pitched, nasal falsetto as Rose really grates, as does her does her prissy Queen's English accent, which, if adopted for comic effect, fails miserably.
Musically, despite the boring songs, the onstage, five-piece band are fantastic, even if they do occasionally drown out the singers' lyrics. Nevertheless, I'm afraid I can't adopt Kevin's change of heart about Gilbert & Sullivan. Not, at least, based on The Ghosts of Ruddigore - it's scary for the wrong reasons.
- Hannah Khalil (reviewed at London's Bridewell Theatre)