Forget the defendant, it is the cast of this excruciating production who should be in the dock. In Trial by Jury, Gilbert and Sullivan created an operetta with a farcical plot which is taken seriously by the characters. Before us we have a farcical performance which cannot be taken seriously by anyone.
All the subtlety of Sullivan’s music is lost in the transformation to the rock form and nothing in this version matches up to the sensitive dynamics and varied time signatures of the original.
For reasons best known to themselves, Accend Productions decided to turn this delightful Victorian piece into a rock opera imaginatively named Rock Trial. To this end they have a rock band on one side of the stage which murders the original score at a consistently and uniformly uncomfortable fortissimo, penetrating the stone building to Paradise at the Vault, below, where I heard it the following evening while trying to follow a play.
As the intention is presumably to bring the work into the rock age, a consistency of costumes might have been appropriate. However, the members of the jury enter in drab Dickensian garb, while the usher looks like a butler. The defendant‘s jeans and T-shirt might suit the period, although they look contemporary. The Plaintiff’s dress fits the period but the interpretation of the role is wide of the mark. The pièce de résistance of the wardrobe, however, is the ill-fitting Elvis Presley-style, complete-with-silky-cape, chest-revealing number worn by the Judge. The humour of this work is meant to be in the libretto, not the costumes!
The Defendant makes a valiant attempt to give a credible performance and has a voice that handles most of the music. Thereafter, the singing is full of flaws. The register of several of the songs seems inappropriate to the performer’s voice, including the Usher, who is hesitant and stiff while looking nervous and ill-at-ease; not a good combination for someone who has to boldly proclaim, “Silence in court!” Meanwhile, Judge Elvis fails to appreciate the tempos of several pieces and is consistently off key. His attempts at hip thrusts and gyrations are simply embarrassing. The majority of the soloists have timing and tuning issues which reach a climax in the complexA nice dilemma we have here,in which Angelina, the Plaintiff, seems determined to out-sing all the others with the higher reaches of her dominating soprano. As the innocent and virtuous jilted bride for whom we are all supposed to feel sorry, I have no idea what she was doing gyrating around the pillar in her opening song accompanied by the bridesmaids in pink boas.
A venue of this size would not normally require the use of microphones. Here they are needed for singers to be heard over the band and are to an extent in keeping with the rock format. However, there was a significant lack of hand-held microphone technique and passing them from one singer to another was clumsy and distracting.
All the subtlety of Sullivan’s music is lost in the transformation to the rock form and nothing in this version matches up to the sensitive dynamics and varied time signatures of the original. Similarly, Gilbert’s libretto is largely lost through poor diction, making the story difficult to follow if you don’t know it.
Having survived to the finale and given our token applause we were then subjected to a totally unnecessary reprise. This production is a trial indeed but one for the audience.