Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Patients into 'Patience'

The theatre that is called the Assemblay Room at Normansfield was opened in June 1879 with a grand event graced by the band of the Grenadier Guards and attended by half the medical profession of London, because it is situated in the centre of a sanatorium near Teddington established by Dr John Langdon Down (who gave his name to Down's Syndrome, and his energies to looking after 150 patients suffering from that disability). The theatre is a gem, wooden ceiling, big proscenium, capacious backstage facilities, seating nearly two hundred, sumptuously decorated in the then current style. Cost to build: £3678; cost to renovate; £1.4 billion.

As a fund-raising opening Patience was exercised. Before the interval a top-hatted Timotny West (playing the Savoy Theatre's one-time stage manager) rehearsed the first act of the 1881 Patience ( a modern parallel would be Britten's Let's Make an Opera). After drinks most of Act Two was performed straight. A distinguished cast had given its time and services to taking part, some with script in uand, but all note perfect. George Grossmith - the original 'Fleshly Poet' Bunthorne - had been the inspiration for the theatre, here flashily and camply portrayed by Simon Butteriss. The title-role was prettily played by Charlotte Page with a voice that was accurate but with the cutting edge of an oxy-acetylyne welder. The stars of the performance were Anne Collins as Lady Jane and Donald Maxwell as Col. Calverley.

What on earth happened to young Gilbert that he was so down (sorry ) on over large and over age spinsters ? Yet, as no doubt Gilbert intended, Anne Collins rose above it, wielded her cello womanfully and was a palpable hit.

The rehearsal scene creaked a little but the second half was hugely enjoyable. It is not Sullivan's best score but there are some delightful numbers as the evening goes on, directed by David Steadman, clanging away on a jangly upright. Script and production by Anthony Baker. Superb costumes devised by Peter Mulloy with the co-operation of the dear old Carla Rosa company.

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