Photo: Mark Senior

We’ll admit that we didn’t really know much about Ruddigore before seeing it, other than it was one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s less-performed works – and experience has taught us that if a work is rarely performed, there’s often a good reason for that. However, having thoroughly enjoyed a production of HMS Pinafore at this very venue last year, and having previously caught productions of classic Gilbert and Sullivan operettas including The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, we thought we’d check Ruddigore out. If nothing else it was a good excuse to spend an evening at the glorious Wilton’s Music Hall, one of our favourite venues.

We were relieved and rather pleasantly surprised to learn that Ruddigore is great fun – this high-camp revival is an absolute hoot. It helps that the performers seem really invested – it feels like the whole thing is a joke and everyone is in on it. Deploying expert precision with their comic timing and displaying a hilarious array of comedic facial expressions, our talented actors tell a tale which is absolutely preposterous, accompanied by some wonderful music.

The plot is as silly and absurdist as you might expect. In a nutshell, we learn about the curse of the Murgatroyd family – the bearer of this curse must commit a crime daily, or perish. In order to escape this fate, the current holder of the curse, Ruthven Murgatroyd (Joe Winter), fakes his own death so it is transferred to his younger brother. Ruthven then goes undercover and tries to evade being discovered – along the way we’re introduced to his foster brother, sailor Richard Dauntless (Kieran Parrott) and they both fall for the same girl, Rose Maybad (Madeline Robinson) – it’s all as ridiculous as it sounds.

In terms of the score, it’s slightly surreal listening to these pieces today: the music in the show is comfortably over a century old now and yet, as the show is rarely performed, and these pieces are referenced less frequently in popular culture than Gilbert and Sullivan’s more famous works, it feels like we’re discovering these songs brand new for the first time – it’s quite an experience. It has all the conventions you’d expect from their shows, including a giggly girl chorus number and an amusing patter song.

It doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders all night, unfortunately. While many of the songs are fantastic there are a couple that fall flat, and although the acoustic at Wilton’s is pretty generous, these are lyrically-complex works and there were a handful of moments where we just couldn’t quite hear what was being sung. Additionally, while most of the show is punchy, the pacing slows just before the interval and takes most of act two to get back up to speed. These are not major concerns, but they prevent a very good production from becoming an incredible must-see.

We still had a lot of fun with Ruddigore – we weren’t quite sure what to expect and it certainly gave us a thoroughly entertaining night out. If this production is anything to go by we’d gladly see this work revived more frequently – there are plenty of hilarious jokes and some fantastic songs, too. Well worth making the journey to Wilton’s Music Hall for.

GAY TIMES gives Ruddigore – 4/5

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