Some degree of mental instability is required to produce theatre in a British municipal hall. Thankfully there are a number of individuals with just the infirmity of mind and strength of constitution to take on such a task.
For 2003 Imperial College Operatic Society (ICOS) tour produces "The Grand Duke" by Gilbert and Sullivan. This is the second time the company has produced the final Savoy Opera in an unbroken 36 year run of summer spectaculars at Budleigh Salterton, Devon.
This is the least performed of the Gilbert and Sullivan's works and it seems that they had not learned from earlier misadventures. One still finds the trademark tenuous (many would suggest criminal) rhyming schemes, late Victorian "humour" and the worst insult to foreign accents since the Broadway cast recording of the Who's "Tommy".
From the above one can only expect an evening in the theatre as messy as the company's legendary after show "sessions". However Director Sue Foister relishes her task and has set to it with a gusto surpassed only by the quality of the end product.
As the septuagenarian residents roll in from the local watering holes and the day's sunburn finally kicks in, the surreal nature of the enterprise begins to overpower. The curtain rises on rogueish tomfoolery, setpiece choreography-on-a-sixpence and the occasional in-joke. First time audience members discover just why they are in a minority. Even the craziest and lengthiest pastry joke since Mr Kipling does not diminish the enthusiasm of the onlookers. The appearance of a troupe of dancing girls leads this correspondent to fear that the excitement could get out of hand.
The experienced cast gives a first-rate performance. This is clearly a team effort, however some deserve extraordinary mention for service beyond the call of duty. David Phipps-Davis battles admirably with the most outrageous facial hair since David Boon departed the cricketing arena. Tasmanian Michaela Hodgson (Julia Jellicoe) is a fine performer who deserves to find her way to a greater stage than this. It is, however the stalwart performance of Philip W. Errington as Ludwig which guides, moulds and drives the performance to its conclusion. A continual steady presence he pulls no punches but scores with every blow.
In a feast of "visuals" much credit is due to those who remain unseen. In putting together a band so sizeable and of such quality Brian D Steel has succeeded in a situation where many similar ventures falter. Set designer Brian Tucker has never been accused of minimalism and his fine confection here suggests no change of style. Lighting designers Kylie Daniels and Etienne "he's a boy" Pollard pull off tricks that only such old hands as themselves would dare (mirror balls agogo and double programme credits for a single job!)
The haughty Londoners leave to general adulation having mercilessly taunted Scotchmen, Frenchmen and Germans alike and still found time for 25 d?colletage gags, a newspaper (surprisingly not The Telegraph) centuries out of place and a Baboon reference. This show is "a great improvement on the traditional means of giving satisfaction". May the Londoners decamp to the regions for many years to come.
The Grand Duke will be performed in Budleigh Salterton Town Hall, Devon at 7.30pm 29/7 - 9/8.