A member of the delightfully niche performance troupe that is the Oxford University Gilbert and Sullivan Society has just informed me that the society bangs out one big operatic production each term. An impressive number for a student-led group, and if all their shows are as high a standard as their Hilary production, ‘Patience’, they are certainly to be applauded.
If you’re more X Factor than Opera House, you probably haven’t heard of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience, which the society is putting on at the end of 6th week. But Patience is a gem – a light comedy about the impossible search for perfect love, which brilliantly satirises the aesthetic movement of the 1870s, and the pretentiousness of art. Patience, a simple milkmaid (Sophia Kirwan-Baez) is, by her own admission, untaught in the world of love, but on seeing the way aristocratic women all faun over the poet Bunthorne (an excellently camp performance by Samuel Lane), she vows to fall in love immediately. So she finds herself entangled with Archibald the All-Right (Oscar Hansen), before realising that their love cannot be – Archibald is clearly a perfect being in every way, and therefore, Patience’s love for him would be a terribly selfish act. The pair part ways, and Patience firmly decides that although he is a lisping, loaththome and pretenthious man, Bunthorne is absolutely the man for her. Lots of swapping of partners is to follow, and lots of pondering the science and poetic ethics of love.
Patience is visually exciting and really enjoyable to watch. In the absence of surtitles, the singers’ diction is very good, and can largely be easily understood. Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas are very wordy and full of fast-paced, funny solos, which the well-rehearsed cast pulled off, keeping Gil and Sul’s sharp wit alive and the audience laughing. The production requires little set – in fact, none at all, as the performers simply move around the church, using the pulpit and front of the church as the stage – meaning that the money saved on furniture and backdrops has allowed the costume department to work wonders. Whilst Patience is dressed in a simple, beige maid’s dress to suit her ‘humble gal’ character, there are a multitude of fantastic, stiff, red-jacketed soldiers and whimsical poets in sophisticated velvet and frilly lace. The small chorus are accompanied by a fourteen piece orchestra, and sing with a strong, confident sound. Most impressive, however, are the direction and staging, which ensured that despite having a large number of chorus and principal characters on stage at one time, it is never difficult to follow the action onstage.
The venue, St Barnabas Church in Jericho, is a little off the beaten track, but the rich history of the Church, and the beautiful performance space adds a lot to the opera. The building itself is high Church of England and in the aesthetic style, built in 1869. It is therefore very ornamental and looks a lot like the inside of a large Catholic church, perfectly complementing the opera’s satirical discussion of the same era. All in all, this an opera full of ludicrous characters and rich, witty dialogue, to be enjoyed by both opera experts and novices alike.
Patience is on from Thursday 25th – Saturday 27th, 6th week of Hilary. Tickets are £10/£8 concessions
Image // Minh Tran