‘Patience presentation earned applause
A full house at the debut of the Hastings Light Opera Company’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience,” presented at the Municipal Theatre on Saturday night testified to the city’s willingness to lend an ear to a new entertainment group in our midst.
Though one could not describe this initial presentation as a 100 per cent success, it was yet good enough to earn spasms of warm applause from the audience and an enthusiastic ovation at the final curtain.
The audience gave the impression that it was prepared to be in on the beginning of something which may grow into a worthy contribution to Hawke’s Bay theatre, and to give encouragement if it were at all deserved.
Encouragement was deserved, and it was freely given.
What the new company showed is that there are a number of voices in the district quite capable of carrying a good amateur production of Gilbert and Sullivan. Stronger voices in the familiar character and patter songs are an essential, and in this quarter the company has not yet found the material it needs. “Patience” was therefore a good choice on which to undergo teething troubles.
The comics are not called upon to perform some of the jaw-breaking verbal antics of the more familiar Savoy operas, though in a sense, they foreshadow what a later generation recognises as Gilbert and Sullivan stock – the love-lorn matron for instance, who is doomed to be cut down to size and restored to reality from her romantic illusions.
From the opening chorus of love-lorn young maidens – a whole 20 of them – awaiting the arrival of the man they all love – the “fleshly” poet, Reginald Bunthorne – it was evident that in a very short time the new company had gone some way towards learning to work together.
As Reginald, George Foster had a coarseness of voice which, for all his aesthetic appearance, did seem appropriate to a “fleshly” poet even though it may not have been what G&S had in mind.
As Patience, a dairy maid, Pat Chapman gave evidence from her entry of possessing a sweetness of voice adequate to the call made upon her in the role, and a personality which helped to give a measure of acceptance to some of the highly incredible lines she had to deliver.
It would be asking too much to expect that every line G&S wrote can stand up forever and I felt that the song in which Patience recalls having perhaps felt the first pangs of love while in the cradle – for a visiting baby boy – express sentiments more acceptable to the Victorian era than the hardened 20th century. But there was no question of eliminating this particular number, for that other baby – in the form of an “idyllic” poet, Archibald Grosvenor, played by Terence Coyle – turns up to prove that marriages are made in heaven, and the predestination element must therefore be sustained.
Lost too, by the passage of time, is some of the more vernal satire by which G&S “took the mickey” out of the pre-Raphaelite literateurs and Swinburne in the days when “Patience” was hot news.
History has remained on the side of G&S at least where Swinburne concerned.
Musically, “Patience” is a very pretty piece and the orchestra not large enough, nor did it always work in full accord, to sustain the pace.
Production also showed the tendency to drag its feet at transitional moments, and a little more activity at the fringes of cast line-ups would have helped the pace. Too many tended to stand about too woodenly waiting their cues.
Costuming was good and the sets adequate.
No one need attend the production feeling that it is a charitable act. Faults there are, but also a measure of accomplishment which suggests the Hastings Light Opera Company has a future.
“Patience,” produced by Dorothy Holderness, will be presented again at the Hastings Municipal Theatre tonight and tomorrow night. – L.J.