Posts Tagged ‘Basil Hood’

More colourful than a river pageant and a whole lot more tuneful than a jubilee concert, if I were celebrating the jubilee, this 110 year-old musical / operetta would be my personal highlight. Apparently, at the time of the present queen’s coronation there were 500 productions around the UK! It’s so good, its hard to understand quite why it isn’t produced more often.

The stories of composer Sir Edward German and librettist Basil Hood are linked to Gilbert & Sullivan, to whom the show owes much in style. Hood wrote an operetta with Sullivan after Gilbert moved on and German completed an unfinished operetta with Gilbert after Sullivan’s death. Though neither German nor Hood achieved the fame of Gilbert & Sullivan, based on this show they clearly could have.

Set in the times of the earlier Queen Elizabeth, with the Queen a character (and a silent cameo from Elizabeth II at the curtain call!) the show takes place during a May Day festival where most of the male characters are besotted with the May Queen and everyone is convinced Jill-All-Alone is a witch. Somehow one of Queen Elizabeth’s  ladies in waiting and Sir Walter Raleigh, in love with one another but concealing  it from the Queen as she rather fancies him, turn up (this is musical theatre, after all), as does the Earl of Essex, who uses the opportunity presented by a lost letter to win the Queen for himself. It’s a simple, silly tale, but it provides a good showcase for much fun and some lovely music with very witty lyrics.

Played on the set of the Finborough’s other show with some simple painted backdrops and a handful of props, the design effort focuses on some excellent costumes (and particularly good footwear!) by Sophia Anastasiou. Benjamin Cox heroically plays the entire score on an electric piano and the musical standards are outstanding. I was particularly impressed by Michael Riseley as Raleigh, Nichola Jolley as Jill-All-Alone and Gemma Sandzer as lady-in-waiting Bessie Throgmorton. The comic honours belong to Daniel Crane, whose Walter Wilkins, actor in Shakespeare’s company, was a delight. The ensemble was superb and the choruses were terrific. Alex Sutton’s staging, with 18 actors in the tiny Finborough space, was excellent.

Like Gay’s The Word just a few months ago, this is another lost gem which deserves a much much longer run – one you’ll have to wait for as the present run is now over. Sorry!


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