Saturday 12 March 2011

Ruddigore: Spectres all appalling

 The ghost scene from the original production

Our next PBGS Show is Ruddigore, and the biggest challenge for any amateur or professional production is how to pull off the scene where the spectres of all the cursed Murgatroyds step out of their picture frames. So how did it all go in Gilbert's original production? Not as well as you might expect, at least on the troubled first night where the scene got mixed reviews. The reviewer at The Times didn't enjoy it at all, saying:
The ghost scene of the second act, representing the descent of the Murgatroyd ancestry from their picture frames, of which preliminary notices and hints of the initiated had let one to expect much, was a very tame affair. In the first instance, the stage management was not here equal to Savoy level. A set of very ugly daubs... pulled up as you might a patent iron shutter to reveal a figure in the recess behind, can scarcely be called a good example of modern stage contrivance, especially when, on Saturday night, one of these blinds or shutters comes down at an odd moment, while another refuses to move in time...
Shades of the wonderful Pod scene in This is Spinal Tap, but without the tight trousers. The reviewer of the Daily News was blown away by the wonderful Ghost music - unlike the Times, who, lacking the benefit of a crystal ball, pompously thought that the seriousness of the music was evidently 'too much for the composer'. The Daily News also loved Sullivan's ingenious solution to the problem of the darkened stage and auditorium:
The stage is darkened, and Sir Arthur Sullivan conducts with a baton tipped with a tiny incandescent lamp. The expedient is new to London, and it was, we believe, first used after the recent manoeuvres of the German army, when a military band of 1,200 performers serenaded the Kaiser in the dark. The whole of the music of the picture scene is far removed above the ordinary level of comic opera, and is among the best things of this sort that Sir Arthur Sullivan has ever written.
Rutland Barrington, who played Sir Despard, called it 'a very stormy first night,' and the show suffered from being in the shadow of Gilbert and Sullivan's last operetta, the hugely successful Mikado, but Ruddigore managed to run for 288 performances, leading Sullivan to quip to Barrington 'I could do with a few more such failures'. The Ghost Scene is now one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous and best loved scenes, forever cocking a snook at the Times reviewer's crusty opinion that it was 'pitched in the wrong key'.

- SW

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