For long in the shadow of its immediate predecessor The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore has never had the success it surely deserves. That situation should now change after Opera North's new production at The Lowry.
Gilbert's plot is set in the Cornish town of Rederring where the Murgatroyd family, baronets of Ruddigore, have been cursed to commit a crime a day. It is a wicked satire on the Victorian fascination for gothic melodrama and all things supernatural.
On the surface there are the stock characters of melodrama: an innocent maiden, the jolly seaman replete with mummerset accent and a kitbag of nautical cliches, apparitions a-plenty not forgetting the obligatory cape swirling villain. But all is not what it seems in this topsy turvy world. Gilbert invests his characters with most disturbing signs of insanity. There are multiple changes of prospective spouses preceded by the chasing of any eligible (or ineligible) female and a visitation by long dead ancestors.
Updated from the early 19th century to sometime after the Great War Jo Davies' terrific production is enhanced by Richard Hudson's superb sets that are evocatively lit in sepia tones by Anna Watson. The first of many laughs of the evening comes during the overture when a flickering sideshow sets the scene for the events that are to unfold.
Sullivan's music is some of the finest he wrote for the Savoy operas and it fizzes along under John Wilson's direction, especially in the Act 2 ghost scene where Steven Page's marvellous Sir Roderic is on commanding form.
Grant Doyle's suave Sir Ruthven together with Amy Freston's svelte Rose Maybud are gorgeously sung and acted. Anne Marie Owens' authoritative yet tender Dame Hannah and Richard Angus' towering hulk of a servant are consistently fine.
As the randy skirt-chasing jack tar Hal Cazelet brought boundless energy and brio to the not particularly likeable Dick Dauntless.
But then, in this probing production which also explores the ambiguities in Gilbert's masterly libretto, are the protagonists really likeable?
Heather Ship's Mad Margaret was curiously unsettling yet often hilarious especially when partnered with the excellent Sir Despard of Richard Burkhard in the second act duet.
This production must surely restore Ruddigore to its rightful place as one of the great Savoy operas. Set to become a classic, it is a ruddy good show. Don't miss it!