“When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls…” make sure to be part of Ruddygore’s fabulously ghostly capers, if only as an audience member! Brought vividly to life (and no pun intended) by the much acclaimed Edinburgh Gilbert & Sullivan Society, this version of the satirical, comic opera comes closer to the 1887 original than the strongly altered version which was performed from the 1920’s onward. Even some of the lyrics have been slightly changed to humorously integrate some 21st century issues… fed up with Brexit, anyone?

Set in the quaint and Cornish fishing village of Rederring (a red herring if ever there was one) the corps of charity-funded professional bridesmaids increasingly despair, for no wedding had taken place in months. With sweet Rose Maybud (Gillian Robertson) being the most likely candidate to be married off, even her aunt Dame Hannah (Annabel Hamid) might be ‘up for grabs’ as far as the bridesmaids are concerned though shock and horror, Hannah reveals her reasons as to why a previous love has left her with a bitter aftertaste and the curse of the Baronets (‘Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, his leisure and his riches’) and she continues with the sordid tale of the bad Baronet of Ruddygore who is required to commit a crime a day or die…
Going by her book of etiquette, Rose meanwhile measures her suitors against printed advice and comes to the conclusion that the only acceptable suitor is one Robin Oakapple (seasoned performer and EDGAS president Ian Lawson). Little does our heroine know that Oakapple harbours a terrible secret which only his loyal servant Old Adam Goodheart (Andrew Crawford) and jolly sailor Dick Dauntless (Chris Cotter) are only too aware of, namely that Oakapple really is Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the rightful bad baronet of Ruddygore! In what turns out to be a mighty screwball comedy we witness how Rose first becomes the betrothed of Richard Oakapple, only to switch over to dance-happy sailor Dick, only to switch over to Oakapple again…
In between we are treated to hilarious dance interludes, rip-roaring musical numbers and the appearance of Mad Margaret (Fiona Main), clutching a Sir Despard puppet to her heart and revealing to Rose – in a song of woe – how she has been driven mad to distraction by her love for the current bad Baronet, Sir Despard (who happens to be Robin Oakapples’ younger brother). Is this beginning to develop into a Penny Dreadful serial? Talk about the devil… the skies suddenly turn blood-red and Sir Despard (Simon G. Boothroyd) appears together with his evil crew, all clad in black and red and giving the ghost of Tod Slaughter a run for his money! Meanwhile, the scheming Dick, hell-bent on winning back the hand of Rose, lets Sir Despard know that his brother Richard Oakapple is in fact very much alive and kicking… and about to tie the knot (‘You understand? I think I do’). Fittingly, ACT 1 ends with the shocking revelation that Oakapple is Sir Ruthven and his consequent casting-off by the shattered Rose (‘Farewell! Thou hadst my heart’) who trots off with Dick Dauntless while the now virtuous Sir Despard keeps his promise to marry Mad Margaret.

ACT 2 takes place in the ancestral picture gallery of Ruddygore Castle, resembling a set which could be straight out of a Roger Corman or Hammer Horror movie! Oakapple aka Sir Ruthven, and his servant Adam who now is Gideon Crawle, reflect on their new circumstances and surroundings while a giant bat descends from the ceiling. Interrupting their maudlin state are Rose and Dick Dauntless who have come to the castle to seek Oakapple’s consent to their marriage… which he reluctantly grants (‘O rapture! Away to the parson we go!’). Suddenly the hall darkens and eerie fog enshrouds the room while the ghostly Murgatroyds descend from their picture frames (‘Painted emblems of a race’). A truly impressive spectacle with the ghosts clad in various fashions from over the centuries! Things get better still when the imposing frame of Sir Roderic (Farlane Whitty) emerges, garish make-up and all, and thunders into the rollicking ‘When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls’ – the undisputed highlight of the show! Of course, to give any more away would be spoiling the broth as this really is the must-see production of the week! Rest assured it’s happy endings all ‘round and did I mention Basingstoke (not to be confused with Birmingham)?

This truly impressive production has it all – a talented and clearly enthusiastic cast, superb set and light designs, fabulous costumes, and the expertise of artistic director Alan Borthwick and musical director David Lyle. D’oyly Carte watch out!

RUDDYGORE runs until March 25th (www.edtheatres.com)

Be the first to see our exclusive Theatre News cast interviews by subscribing to our brand new Youtube channel as well as our Twitter and Facebook pages.