The sound of singing leads me to the seminar room in mazelike Wadham. Through the windows I can see the cast of Ruddigore rehearsing energetically, the windows thrown open to bring air into the cosy space. Halfway through my evening’s entertainment they are closed again – someone has obviously decided that Gilbert and Sullivan isn’t the right accompaniment to their essay-crisis.
Ruddigore is one of the lesser well known Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and this evening I’ve been given the opportunity of a sneak peek at the production-in-progress. The play tells the story of the house of Ruddigore, a family of Baronets whose eldest son is cursed to commit a daily crime or else die horribly. The latest first-born disguises himself in order to win the hand of the pretty yet priggish maiden of the village, and hilarity ensues along the familiar lines of hidden identity and misplaced affections, with a chorus of professional bridesmaids and singing ghosts thrown in.
Even without costume or set, the cast manage to bring to life the characters: the noble hero, the villainous brother, the virtuous maiden. But this scene I’ve been invited to watch is a moment of tipping identities – the virtuous maiden gets a leg up, the villainous brother renounces his wicked ways and the noble hero’s lie is revealed, all captured by the cast’s excellent physical acting. Tom Wade (Robin/Ruthven) brings a poise and energy to his performance that captures the fresh-faced young lover, and there is clear dynamic between him and the clear-voiced Alexandra Coghlan (Rose). One of the most striking elements of the production is how well the ensemble acting is pulled off. Although Rory Pelsue’s choreography felt cramped in the seminar room, the cast worked well together, and the movements were tight and controlled, visually interesting, moving from one tableau to another dynamically and making use of all the space available to them. It will be exciting to see how this is developed on the traverse stage at the O’Reilly.
On the night there will be an orchestra as well, replacing the single key board of the rehearsal. Despite the reduced musical accompaniment, the singing was powerful and vibrant, with strong, clear performances from the soloists, important when the whole story is told through song. Only occasionally did words become lost in the chorus singing, something that will hopefully improve in the better acoustics of the theatre.
As a break from some of the deeper and perhaps more topical plays around Oxford, Ruddigore promises to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I look forward to seeing the polished production in the theatrical setting it so deserves.