If you were a late-Victorian admirer of Oscar Wilde, Pre-Raphaelite art (especially the wan maidens of Burne-Jones) and the Aesthetic Movement in general, then the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience would have made you squirm in your seat at the brand new Savoy Theatre.
This work, premiered in 1881, is a fairly savage satire on the fashionable culture of its day. It is still very funny because of the timelessness of G and S and because of our recognition that there is always some trendy cultural movement that is ripe for mockery. What would W.S. Gilbert’s target be if he were writing today?
The title character of Patience is a down-to-earth milkmaid who catches the eye of a poetic poseur, the Oscar Wildean Reginald Bunthorne – long-haired, attired in velvet knee breeches and invariably clutching a lily for the purposes of aesthetic contemplation. He is followed everywhere by twenty swooning women who have stepped straight out of a Burne-Jones canvas.
The local dragoons are much put by the fact that the local lovelies have transferred their affections to this preposterous individual. But then Bunthorne in turn has his nose put out of joint by the arrival of the even more intensely aesthetic and narcissistic poet Archibald Grosvenor (named no doubt after the art gallery that was the spiritual home of the aesthetic movement in the 1880s).
Huddersfield G and S Society’s company of regular lead performers relish their roles. As might be expected Ian Grange plays Bunthorne with sly, conspiratorial wit, and Paul Richmond does a great silly ass routine as the Duke of Dunstable. Elaine Richmond is the Yorkshire-accented Patience and provides one of the musical highlights with her solo “Love is a plaintive song”. Leon Waksberg does a very good turn as the naively narcissistic Grosvenor, before his final transformation from aesthete into a sort of Lupin Pooter-style lad about town, complete with Estuary accent.
Celia Poole and Becky Gregson–Flynn are among the ladies who amusingly swoon and adopt rapturous poses in the presence of their poetic idols. And perhaps the most enjoyable performance in this production is that of Ann Likeman as the lovelorn Lady Jane, who performs her solo “Sad is that woman’s lot” with comic brio, while her singing-and-dancing duet with Bunthorne is delightfully done.
We don’t always get the clarity we need for Gilbert’s lyrics, but artistic director Graham Weston and musical director Colin Akers, have ensured that this is a good, funny and tuneful production of Patience, with some excellent costumes, which are themselves almost part of the plot.
Patience concludes on Saturday, when there is also a matinee.