The Grayshott Stagers gave audiences a musical treat last week with a highly enjoyable presentation of “Tarantara! Tarantara!” a musical play about the famous operatic partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Ian Taylor's play tells the story of the pairing of the librettist and the composer, their association with impresario D'Oyly Carte, the huge success of their Savoy operas and ultimately the acrimonious breakdown in their professional relationship. Threaded into the story were suitable musical excerpts from the most popular operas, which had the audience humming along in appreciation.

The Stagers were fortunate to cast three accomplished actors in the contrasting roles of WS Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan and Richard D'Oyly Carte.

As Gilbert, Andrew Boughton conveyed well the temperamental nature of the great librettist who favoured whimsical plots concerning changes of identity, magic potions and lozenges. The comic side to his personality was well displayed and he delivered some of the best lines in the play. He was particularly good in the song “Am I Alone?” from Patience, flitting about as the fey Bunthorne with lily in hand.

Richard White gave a most convincing interpretation, portraying well the frustrations of Arthur Sullivan. His expressive performance reflected the inner turmoil of the great composer who reveled with the elite of society, who was constantly blighted by ill health, and who yearned to write grand opera and serious music but became trapped by his success as the writer of popular comic operas.

Michael Clarke played the oily impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte with mannered style, treading a delicate path as he tried to pacify both men and cajole them into collaborating in further operas. His rendition of Ruddigore's “When the Night Wind Howls” was sung with relish and, bathed in demonic green light, was particularly effective.

As George Grossmith, one of the leading actors in the Savoy Opera Company, Peter Gardner's vocal abilities were truly tested with several tongue-twisting patter songs and his capable performance of the Nightmare Song from Iolanthe was justly rewarded with an extended round of applause.

Talented Alexandra Legat played the role of actress Rose Hervey with confidence. She has excellent stage presence, a strong mezzo voice and fine comic timing which she used to good effect as she attempted to sing HMS Pinafore's “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore” in spite of constant interruption.

Heather Parker gave a lively performance as Savoy soubrette Jessie Bond. She really shone in her solos and it is a pity that the role was not allotted a few extra songs as she has a lovely soprano range and the audience would have liked to hear more of her.

Teresa Marsh, always a pleasure to watch, ably demonstrated a number of accents as she switched effortlessly between the roles of American Savoyard Geraldine Ulmar, Sullivan's English lady friend Mary Ronalds and Carte's Scottish wife and secretary Helen Lenoir, with her usual impeccable style.

Alan Stone played the stagehand Joe; quietly observing and commenting wryly on the action. He also had the opportunity to shine in solo numbers such as the Pirate King's song.

Chorus members Jennifer Charters, Shona Dickinson, Liz Dobson, Shirley Jelliss, Betty Penny, Thelma Robertson, Jane Sargeant, Mandy Sutcliffe, Marian Walker, John Dickens, Malcolm Dobson, Bob Fells, Mike Lee and Tony Legat ably supported the leads in some of the show's bigger musical numbers, particularly the excerpts from Trial By Jury, Patience and HMS Pinafore, as well as the title song “Tarantara” from The Pirates of Penzance. One of their number had a tendency to fidget during quiet scenes, which was somewhat distracting. The chorus is an essential part of any musical production and they should never forget that they are just as visible as the leads standing at the front!

Musical Director Tony McIntee deserves high praise, not only for successfully drilling the chorus and soloists through a huge number of G&S hits, but for single handedly accompanying them in sensitive style throughout the evening, a marathon achievement with a show almost three hours long.

Heather Legat's direction was well paced and she delivered an evening of first class entertainment. The audience was treated to a score of operatic hits and learnt a great deal about how the Savoy operas were written and about the two protagonists who are such an important part of English Musical Theatre.

Wardrobe mistresses Lynn Patton and Betty Penny dressed the large cast very well. Costume changes were kept to a minimum, but the different operas were successfully and effectively represented with the addition of simple hats and hand props.

Also deserving a special mention are the billboards advertising the various operas, beautifully painted by Judy Lee who was also responsible for the simple but effective backcloth showing the rehearsal stage of the Savoy Theatre in 1888.

We are lucky to have such a wealth of theatrical talent in our local area so it was a pity to see some empty seats on the Friday night. You can't beat a night out at the theatre; it's so much more rewarding than sitting at home stagnating in front of the television.


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Updated: 1st December 2001
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