Monday, 13 May 2013

Toffee in rehearsals, toffee backstage, toffee at the after-show!

To have it supposed that you care for nothing but toffee... I can't be bothered to keep going with the quote, but I was recently in a production of Patience.
...I've actually taken long enough writing this show post that I've been in another show since. In my defence, there were only two weeks between the two shows, and one of the reasons this post took so long to write is that I had to keep rushing out to rehearsals. Anyway. Patience.

Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride, was originally planned to be about two rival curates, but Gilbert after a while turned them into poets and the opera became a satire on the craze for the aesthetic movement. It's probably one of the shows directors are most fond of updating, because the aesthetic craze can be easily analogised to a more modern craze. Replace the poets with popstars or something.
Of course, I've mentioned Patience on this blog before, when I talked about a production I went to see, in which for some unknown reason they decided to backdate it instead of updating it... it didn't really work for me. The production I was in left it in the original setting, and was much better.

Dramatis Personae

Colonel Calverley - Baritone. Fairly standard gruff army officer. Leads the chorus of dragoons.

Major Murgatroyd - Baritone. Basically just a lesser version of the Colonel.

Lieutenant the Duke of Dunstable - Tenor. Joined the regiment of dragoons because he was sick of people flattering him all the time because he feels he doesn't deserve it. This is the part I played, and my inspiration for the way I did it was part generic excessively posh simpering fop, and part Eeyore. He's sad about everything!

Reginald Bunthorne (A fleshly poet) - Comic Baritone. Secretly doesn't actually like poetry, just likes being adored by women. Gloomy, moody, fitful, uncertain in temper and selfish in disposition. Very egotistical. A bit like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, actually.

Archibald Grosvenor (An idyllic poet) - Lyric Baritone. Rather self-absorbed and vain without realising it - so many people have told him he's perfectly beautiful that he believes it to be an objective fact. Doesn't actually like being adored by every woman he meets because he's in love with Patience, but sees it as his duty to make them happy in this way.

Mr. Bunthorne's Solicitor - Silent. Walks on in the act 1 finale to conduct a raffle with Bunthorne as the prize. Leaves once the plot moves on.

Ladies Angela, Saphir and Ella (Rapturous maidens) - Mezzo, Mezzo, Soprano. Dedicated followers of the fashion for aesthetic poetry, and therefore of Bunthorne, until Grosvenor arrives. As Patience observes, none of the women are particularly happy about being in love.

Lady Jane - Alto. The one maiden who doesn't abandon Bunthorne for Grosvenor. Clearly aware of and concerned about the decay of her personal charms with age. While the other maidens are more likely to gaze adoringly at their poet of choice, and maybe swoon elegantly, Jane tends to be more forceful.

Patience (A dairy maid) - Soprano. Simple, but not necessarily stupid, and may in fact have more common sense than most of the rest of the cast.

So. Plot. Dragoons love women. Women love poet. Poet loves milkmaid. Milkmaid (Patience) hasn't loved anyone since she was four years old. In fact, she doesn't even know what love is. On being told that love is "of all passions the most essential" and that it must be unselfish, she concludes that she has to fall in love as soon as possible. Unfortunately, though she does re-meet her childhood sweetheart (Grosvenor, another poet), she reasons that since he's so incredibly beautiful and everything, falling in love with him would be incredibly selfish, so to be unselfish she must instead fall in love with someone she doesn't actually like - Bunthorne (The first poet). Bunthorne and Patience are together, women with the exception of Lady Jane fall in love with Grosvenor, Bunthorne is annoyed, dragoons are still annoyed, Grosvenor's unhappy, end act 1.
Act 2, after much faffing on worrying about who's in love with who and who will marry which women given Grosvenor doesn't want any of them. Bunthorne, in an attempt to get the women to like him again instead of Grosvenor, forces Grosvenor to become a commonplace young man. Unfortunately it backfires, the women reasoning that if Grosvenor doesn't want to be aesthetic any more, they don't either. Since he's no longer a perfect beauty, Patience can love him without it being selfish. Finally, the Duke declares his intention to marry Jane in the spirit of fairness, since she's the only one of the women who isn't beautiful, thus leaving Bunthorne with no-one.

I've omitted some important details, like the three officers attempting to become aesthetic to win back the ladies,
 the fact that Bunthorne never had a mother, though he did have an aunt,

 magnets, eyeglasses in oculars, and so on. Thing is, they don't actually impact the plot particularly in the long run. They're just funny.
I was actually realising at some point during the rehearsal process that if I had to rank the G&S shows in order of preference, Patience would probably be somewhere towards the bottom of the list. Though of course it must be noted that this is all relative - I love all the shows rather a lot, unlike many other G&S enthusiasts I know who all seem to have one or two that they just don't. And then, this production in particular I thought there might have been some issues, maybe things would go wrong, etc. But then, pretty much in the week of the show, suddenly everything was amazing and it was some of the most fun I've ever had doing G&S.


OK, so an interesting thought I had about Patience, which wasn't so much a thing in this production, but if I were to direct it myself I might try to play with this idea - the most actually aesthetic person in the show is debatably the Duke. Bunthorne isn't aesthetic, he's just pretending to be to make women like him. The women aren't really aesthetic, they just pretend to be to make poets like them. Grosvenor... his poetry really isn't all that. I like to think that adoring women just assumed he was a poet because he's so beautiful, and he just believed them. On the other hand, the Duke's whole spiel about how he doesn't deserve all this adulation and too much toffee becomes so awful; to me, at least, this seems reminiscent of Bunthorne's spiel about how everything is hollow, except the Duke really believes it and doesn't realise it could be kind of poetic. The Duke was probably brought up too much thinking that poetry was wishy-washy and effeminate or whatever and so he wouldn't go for it but instead would try to do something more appropriately manly like joining a second-class cavalry regiment. I may have put a slightly excessive amount of thought into this, but it was interesting, and I had nothing in particular to do on a metro journey home after rehearsal.

I'm sure I had more things to say about this show... oh, a kind of interesting thing is that the last time I did this show, four years ago, I auditioned for the same 3 parts that I did this time (Bunthorne, Grosvenor, Duke). I think in most cases I've gotten more interested in other parts than I would've wanted back then when I was still fairly new to G&S. I don't know if there's anything particularly insightful about that, if it says anything about the show, it just suddenly struck me just now.
I'm trying to think if there's anything more about the show I can really talk about... I don't know if there is. I guess one of the reasons it would (as I said further up) probably be lowish on my list of favourites is because there's nothing that makes it particularly stand out - it's not long and in need of cutting, it's not viewed as problematic in subject matter at all, it's just your standard "this is a G&S". All you really need to do with it is decide on how to play things out. Bring out the comedy primarily, other emotions also, have fun with it.

Oh, though not certain, it's certainly plausible and fairly well speculated that Gilbert changed his mind about how he wanted the romances to play out partway through the show - it seems obvious that one should pair up all the major principals, so the Duke would have Ella and Bunthorne would have Jane, who never abandoned him. But instead the Duke chooses Jane and Ella is kind of forgotten about and marries the Solicitor. So one thinks, maybe Gilbert just partway through thought "Actually, wouldn't it be funnier if the Duke married Jane and left Bunthorne with nobody?" and changed it.
Of course, it's even a bit more problematic in amateur societies, when the women outnumber the men and yet somehow there still isn't anyone left for Bunthorne. As a sort of related sidenote, Patience is also one of the few shows with lyrics specifying the number of chorus members, throwing up similar issues since most societies can't actually find exactly twenty lovesick maidens to put on stage.

Oh, and one more thing: Bunthorne is not Oscar Wilde. This is a popular misconception, apparently. Wilde was certainly part of the aesthetic movement Patience was satirising, and indeed the most famous member of it now. And apparently D'Oyly Carte got him to do an American lecture tour to make sure the American audiences would understand it (Poor benighted yanks not understanding Gilbert's brilliance/British humour in general...) But Bunthorne is his own character, blah blah etc, Wilde may be an easy association but he's not the character.

Is there more stuff? Maybe tomorrow I'll remember loads of other things I wanted to say about Patience and be annoyed that I forgot them. Wait, wait. OK, I remembered the two paragraphs right above this bit and threw them in. Maybe I've still forgotten things, but if so it'll be less things now. Whatever, I have another show post to write already, and some not-show posts. Farewell, Patience! Patience, farewell!

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