Stunning, imaginative, inspired, colourful, amusing, brilliantly performed and beautifully sung, this Trial By Jury is Gilbert and Sullivan at its very best.
Stunning, imaginative, inspired, colourful, amusing, brilliantly performed and beautifully sung
Always keen to take a dig at the establishment, the duo latched onto the offence of breach of promise of marriage as the subject for what became their shortest operetta and just happens to have the perfect running time for the Fringe. It was first performed in 1875 and became an immediate hit. The common law tort was repealed in 1971, so Velocirapture Productions (alumni and students members of Cambridge University G & S Society and few friends) have set their show in the year 1968. This has worked out extremely well in terms of costume which are in an array of colours and designs from the period, greatly cheering up the traditional dullness of Victorian attire. Everyone looks stunning with the ladies in pretty frocks and dresses and the all-male jury, retained from original, in jackets worthy of a regatta.
The arrogant Edwin (Seb Blount) has been summoned to court by his ex-fiancée, Angelina (Tiffany Charnley). The stern Usher (James Ward) calls for silence in court and the battle ensues to see for whom justice will be done. It soon becomes evident that the proceedings will be far from impartial. The jury is manifestly biased, encouraged by the usher who says they can ignore what the ‘ruffianly defendant’ has to say. Hence, they greet him with hostility in some splendidly directed group movements. Meanwhile the Defendant admits that Angelina bored him and so he took up with another woman. The Learned Judge (Christian Longstaff) enters in vivid red robes, but in a wonderfully entertaining comic twist he seems to be the most youthful person on stage rather than the elderly gentleman who would normally play the part. He sings of his rise to power and admits to his own shortcomings in the same manner as the Defendant. Abandoning the usual wedding dress, Angelina arrives in a stunning black cocktail dress and the proceedings continue with some clever humour that must make this the most amusing Trial By Jury ever performed. Dramas abound in the ensuing quite ludicrous court case before everything is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and ‘joy unbounded’ reigns.
The large cast is tightly and imaginatively directed by Tiffany Charnley who says, “Our setting has allowed us to remove the character of Angelina from a position of victim in this trial, to a more powerful role who manipulates this outdated law to her own advantage”. One of the musical challenges for the show proved to be reducing a score written for full orchestra to one with only eight players and half the number of parts. Musical Director, Robert Nicholas, says: “[we] had to carefully select the instruments to best cover the textures and harmonies in the original score, whilst [still] producing a voluminous but easily blended sound. As the conductor, I am not exempt from multitasking, aiming to also cover the bass drum, cymbals, triangle and, occasionally, second violin!” Together they keep everything moving at a cracking pace and the quality of the acting and singing is outstanding throughout. The full-cast rendition of the highly complex A Nice Dilemma We Have Here sound like something out of grand opera.
It’s hard to imagine that Gilbert and Sullivan themselves would not be thrilled with this production and delighted to see that comedic musical satire is still thriving and being performed to this level of excellence.