Haddon Hall triumph for Matlock G&S Society

Helen Booker as Dorothy and Andrew Moore as  John Manners.
Helen Booker as Dorothy and Andrew Moore as John Manners.
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Light opera Haddon Hall is bound to be a big draw for Derbyshire residents - not least because it hasn’t been performed around these parts for many a year.

Sadly it’s not being staged at the stately home but down the road at the Medway Centre, Bakewell, where Matlock Gilbert and Sullivan Society have constructed a scaled-down version.

Liz McKenzie as Lady Vernon in Haddon Hall, performed by Matlock G&S Society.

Liz McKenzie as Lady Vernon in Haddon Hall, performed by Matlock G&S Society.

Healthy numbers of viewers have been turning up to the production over the past couple of nights - and there’s one last chance to see it this evening, Saturday, June 14, at 7.30pm.

Set in the 17th century, the opera reflects a period when King Charles II fled to France and Parliamentarians seized the estates of Royalists. Against this backdrop is played out the story of Dorothy Vernon, whose father wants her to marry his cousin, a Puritan, to ensure that Haddon Hall stays in the family. But Dorothy is in love with John Manners, a Cavalier, and elopes with him to France.

Even if you don’t know the opera, and I doubt many do, it’s well worth checking out as the songs and music are some of the most beautiful you’ll hear when performed in such fine fashion.

Highlights of the chorus numbers are the exquisitely performed madrigal When the Budding Bloom of May and The Bonny Bridegroom Cometh.

Chris Hannant as The McCrankie with Nic Wilson, playing Rupert Vernon, in Haddon Hall staged by Matlock G&S Society.

Chris Hannant as The McCrankie with Nic Wilson, playing Rupert Vernon, in Haddon Hall staged by Matlock G&S Society.

Leading lady Helen Booker, in the role of Dorothy Vernon, gives superb performances of difficult solos, particularly the recitative Why Weep and Wait?, and her tender approach is not only sympathetic to the character but evokes sympathy in the viewer.

True to his character, Andrew Moore plays John Manners in cavalier fashion, turning up at Haddon Hall with a barrow-load of wares and making an aside to the audience “premature Tesco.” His character is very much the hero, sweeping his love off in the middle of the night as a storm rages which is signified by dramatic lighting effects of forked lightning and raindrops. Andrew looks as though he’s bursting with pride at the end as the eloped couple return with two little daughters in tow, played by his own children Eliss and Lucia Moore.

Producer Max Taylor, who has edited the script so well that it’s impossible to detect where it changes from the original, takes on dual performance duties - as the master of Haddon Hall Sir George and as his manservant Oswald.

The society’s chairman Liz McKenzie, playing Lady Vernon, flowers in her signature song Queen of the Garden, while Susan Devaney brings delightful characterisation, singing and a comic touch to the role of her maid Dorcas.

Comedy is well played in the second scene by Nic Wilson as cousin Rupert, leader of the hypocritical Puritans who have put a stop to plays in theatres, banned dancing and imposed all sorts of other sanctions designed to stop other people having fun. He’s aided and abetted by Chris Hannant as The McCrankie, who arrives on stage in full Scottish regalia, brandishing bagpipes and with a dodgy accent in tow. Ken Watson, Angela Robinson, Neil Jury and David Stokes add to the motley crew of Puritans.

The music is as dramatic as the action and is skiflully performed by an eight-piece ensemble,conducted by musical director Melanie Gilbert.

There was just one point in the production last night that I thought could have been improved and that was an overly long pause between acts two and three which affected the momentum.

Still it’s a good show which is well worth a look. Tickets are £10, available from Lesley Kraushaar, tel. 01629 812344 or 07917 881776 or the Medway Centre on 01629 813638.

GAY BOLTON

* Photos by Albert Thomas and Mac McKenzie.