Having only vaguely heard of Gilbert and Sullivan and their tribute society at St Andrews before seeing Patience on the final night of its performance, I was delighted to discover, for the first time, the charming talents of the famous Victorian duo. The wit and vivacity of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical mocking the aesthetic movement of the late nineteenth century was brought to life with much gusto and aesthetic appeal by the talents of its cast, crew and orchestra.
The story revolves around two wildly revered aesthetic poets, their lovesick admirers, a battalion of jealous soldiers previously betrothed to the ensorcelled maidens, and Patience, the humble milkmaid entirely confused by the psychedelic absurdity of hippy culture.
Patience’s bafflement was well contrasted with the farcicality of the maidens’ aesthetic rapture. For the show’s artistic director, the idea of marrying 60’s Hippy culture with Gilbert and Sullivan was “irresistible”, and for good reason. The decision served the opera’s original intention to mock the flowery yet vapid tone of aesthetic culture very well, which was perfectly translated into the 20th century through the psychedelic dress of the maidens, and their bubbleheaded spirits to match. The elaborate and wildly colourful costumes of the twenty maidens were the apex of the production’s visual appeal, capturing the spirit of the 60’s in sensational fashion.
Aesthetic sensibilities were translated, rather than replaced, with the “flower power” of the 60’s, through the addition of lines such as “Peace Out!” to the original script, which succeeded in making the Victorian opera relevant to a modern audience, as well as enhancing the comedy of the piece. Little touches such as the fluffy yellow pen Bunthorne uses to scribble his poems further highlighted the absurdity of flamboyant aesthetic culture. Chuckles from the audience were frequent throughout the performance, especially during Ruaridh Maxwell and Graham Dalton’s depictions of egocentric aesthetic poets, which were incredibly funny. The flowery pomposity of the two poets were played out with appropriate extravagance, as were the awkward performances of the Colonel, Major and Duke after undergoing hippy makeovers in attempt to win back their fiancées, which were equally amusing.
The show was both visually and musically delightful, and the vocal talents of the society were well exhibited. Maddy Kearns’ performance as Patience stood out as exceptional in terms of the scope and exactitude of her vocals, which were masterful, and perhaps the apogee of the overall musical experience.
The set was appropriately sparse, which allowed the large groups of maidens and dragoons space to move around, and did not take anything away from the parade of art and hysteria which was so integral to the show’s charm. The overall ostentation of the production was fitting in its attempt to emulate Gilbert and Sullivan’s derision of flamboyant “art for art’s sake” culture.
Overall this Victorian satirical opera, covering themes of identity, conformity, artistry, love and obsession, was a joy to watch and listen to, and skilfully adapted to a modern audience. It was charming, humorous and magnificently executed. Well done to all involved.