The Cambridge University Gilbert and Sullivan society are well known for their operetta productions where high-quality singing is accompanied by a live-orchestra and a classic plot. Ruddigore, the societies main production this Lent term, was no exception.
“Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse” was first opened in 1887 by Gilbert and Sullivan and initially ran for 288 performances. The play is a take on “supernatural opera” and “a parody of the stock melodrama”. It is set in Ruddigore where an age-old curse condemns any man who holds the title of Baronet to commit one crime a day or face death. Robin (aka. Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, played by Robert Nicholas) is the successor to the Baronetcy; in order to escape the curse, he resides in a village under a fake guise. Here, he falls in love with Rose Maybud (Eleanor Burke), a young orphan girl who is strictly committed to rules of propriety. The first half of the play follows the amusing love story of the two, leading up to a big reveal of Robin’s baronetcy. In the second half, Robin forcefully assumes his role as Baronet and the audience are taken on a comic journey as he seeks to reconcile good and bad, while awaiting love.
Prior to the play, the audience are treated to a brilliant 10 minute piece by the live-orchestra. The play begins with a transition from early morning to late night and morning once again, drawn together by brilliant stage direction and lighting. The set is quite basic, as the plot demands, with the stage divided in two – with a park bench on one half and table on the other. In the second half, the division is brought down and the whole stage functions as the mansion of the Baron.
On the other hand, the production of the play is clearly superior to others in Cambridge when it comes to lighting and sound. In particular, light is used not only to provide emphasis to certain scenes but also to create a sense of pathetic fallacy. Shadows are used frequently, with special credit to the ancestors scene. While by no means perfect, it is definitely a step above the typical Cambridge play.
In terms of overall performance, credit must be given to Mad Margaret (Katie Green) and Despard Murgatroyd (Jonatan Rosten). Green did a brilliant job of hilariously portraying her frazzled archetypical character while Rosten’s dialogue delivery was commendable. Overall, the two made a brilliant pair and the chemistry was apparent.
At several points in the show, however, it was challenging to hear the actors speak and sing. This was particularly true for the chorus and lead actor, Robert Nicholas. The costumes of the actors, save a few, also seemed to suffer a low budget. The ancestors, however, were amusingly dressed to mirror the portraits in the concert hall.
Overall, the play was a refreshing take on a classic. Despite some drawbacks, it was clearly one of the better shows Cambridge has to offer. A special shoutout to the orchestra, who gave the play life with their amazing music!