This new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta is both traditional and innovative. Traditional, in that the music is played and sung with proper diligence and the dialogue spoken with clarity and conviction. Innovative, in that director-designer Peter Mulloy has emphasised the social satire and pushed the setting back to 1805 with a 1775 dumbshow as prologue acted out during the overture.
This works very well, though someone should have remembered that, with George III on the throne and not Victoria, it would have been the king's navy. It makes Little Buttercup more of a lynchpin for the plot about exchanged babies and affords Sir Joseph an element of Regency decadence he might not otherwise inhabit. Act One's dry dock setting has elements of Rowlandson about it and the change to the main deck for Act Two suggests the shift in mood as well as plot.
At the Norwich performance Michael Kerry sang Captain Corcoran; he has a strong baritone used to good effect in both his arias and a good stage presence. Olivia Safe is Josephine with a vocal range which is at ease with both her Act One duet with Ralph and the Act Two scena "The hours creep on apace". What a pity that her enunciation of the words sung doesn't match that of the words spoken.
Beverley Klein is a three-dimensional Buttercup, putting over her hidden satire of her entrance aria and the pathos of the duet with Corcoran "Things are seldom what they seem". Ralph Rackstraw has the problem of most tenor heroes; lovely music and not a lot of personality to go with it. Jeremy Finch managed the notes and produced an intelligent characterisation.
The weakest part of the production is John Savident as Sir Joseph. The patter man doesn't have to have an operatic voice, but he does need the ability to put over his quick-fire numbers with razor-sharp diction and an ability to dominate his scenes. Savident seemed to have dropped in from quite another show and not to be comfortable in this one.
Martin Handley conducts an ensemble of under twenty players, which is probably the same as for the original production. I would have liked a little more pianissimo at certain moments; it's a comedy in a particularly English tradition but there's delicacy in the scoring as well as high spirits.
A Carl Rosa Opera production reviewed at Theatre Royal, Norwich
- Anne Morley-Priestman