Trial By Jury – Review – Leeds Grand
By Sandra Callard, September 2017
William Shwenk Gilbert and Arthur Seymour Sullivan, despite never becoming firm friends, wrote music and words for their comic operas for twenty years in the late eighteen hundreds, many of which are still performed today.
Trial by Jury was their first international hit, and the only one of their productions to be sung all the way through, with no dialogue. Opera North in Leeds is showing their production of the opera in their ‘Little Greats’ season, with director John Savournin at the helm.
The trial in question is being brought by the Plaintiff (Angelina) against the Respondent (Edwin) for breach of promise (of marriage). He vehemently denies any wrongdoing against Angelina, and sits around looking bored, except when he is singing.
The gorgeous Angelina, fetchingly attired in see-through dress complete with stockings and suspenders on glorious show, bemoans the loss of her only love and claims a huge amount of damages for her pain. The Plaintiff, Angelina, is sung by Amy Freston, who does a terrific job of denying any money-grabbing tendencies, whilst every action shows that she has it in spades.
The Respondent, Edwin, sung by Nicholas Watts, does just as good a hatchet job on himself by saying that he simply got bored of Angelina and left her for another woman. Watts has a terrific voice and can act well enough to evince some conviction into his ‘silly ass’ role. Amy Freston also is perfectly adept at portraying a gold-digger, and her lovely voice manages to rise above the inherent silliness of the songs.
The resulting directions from the Learned Judge, hilariously sung by Jeremy Peaker, are ridiculously puerile, as is every other single action that is proffered to bring the case to some sort of closure. The songs come thick and fast, and they are funny, but it is so easy to tire of the idiocies that are flying round the room. I have realised that you must sit there saying to yourself: “This is Gilbert and Sullivan, and it is supposed to be crazy” then you can relax and expect the unexpected.
The Learned Judge’s final decision in the case is as unexpected as it is insane, but still causes a smile, not least because his moustache was coming loose. He absolutely made the most of this by continually blowing it away from the side of his mouth like a recalcitrant fly; just about the funniest thing in the whole show.
I did not recognise any of the music, but am aware of many songs from other Gilbert and Sullivan shows which have great melodies that move along at some speed and are very pleasant to listen to.
I believe that G&S is often classed as a Marmite syndrome in that you either love it or hate it, but I think it is possible to slide nicely in between and appreciate the uniqueness of it, whilst not being overly eager to see another one in a hurry.