By Andy Fawthrop
It’s not often that you’ll get me schlepping down to a Community Hall in the middle of nowhere (well, OK, Lavington) on a Saturday night for a dose of Light Opera, but…well…it seemed like a good warm-up for the BBC Last Night of the Proms which was due to be broadcast later that night – and so it proved to be.
Devizes Musical Theatre (DMT), in their wisdom, had chosen this slightly out-of-the-way place to perform “A Gallery of Rogues” as their 2021 production (their first since 2019 following Lockdown for most of last year). And thus, breezing my way past the various posters for WI and other local events, I found myself in this rather modern and well equipped hall.
The evening was in two parts – the first being a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial By Jury”, a one act comic opera, and the second being the company performing a number of well known songs from many different musical shows.
“Trial by Jury” is a comic opera in one act, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was first produced in 1875, at London’s Royalty Theatre, where it initially ran for 131 performances and was considered a hit. The story concerns a “breach of promise of marriage” lawsuit in which the judge and the legal system are the objects of light-hearted satire. As with most G&S operas, the plot of “Trial by Jury” is ludicrous, but the characters behave as if the events were perfectly reasonable. This narrative technique blunts some of the pointed barbs aimed at hypocrisy, especially of those in authority, and the sometimes base motives of supposedly respectable people and institutions. The success of “Trial by Jury” launched the famous series of 13 collaborative works between Gilbert and Sullivan that came to be known as the Savoy Operas.
In this production, using mostly modern dress, no scenery, and virtually no props, the guys and gals from DMT had nowhere to hide. Using only a simple piano accompaniment, it was down to the strength and quality of the voices only. And, after a slightly nervous start, they pretty well nailed it, with each singer growing in confidence as the play progressed. The call-and-response choruses, so beloved of G&S fans, were used to great effect and the whole production swung along with very few flaws. Of particular note were Naomi Ibbetson as The Plaintiff, and Tom Hazell as The Defendant. The supporting roles, especially the three bridesmaids, were also strongly played to great effect.
The second half consisted of a series of songs from various musicals including “Cats”, “Oliver” and “The Wizard of Oz”, culminating in a full-cast version of the Lockdown classic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. Not a dry eye in the house.
For me, it was a good evening of entertainment, and well worth the trip out to Lavington. And I’d say the rest of the audience agreed, as the applause was hard and long. However, I’m still mystified as to why a concert that clearly took a lot of time and effort to be produced was only to be given this single performance, and why at such an out-of-town venue. Surely more people would have gone to see DMT in action if this had used a more Devizes-central location?
Future DMT productions:
The Wind in the Willows – 3rd to 10th April 2022 at Dauntsey’s School
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