The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief review at Wilton’s Music Hall, London – ‘theatrical brilliance’
Opera della Luna is unique in specialising in comic opera and operetta, and though it often has stronger material to work with than this lengthy and vapid Johann Strauss piece, its latest production still rises to unusual heights of theatrical brilliance.
Strangely, The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief has never previously received a full-scale UK production – though it was a hit in Vienna in 1880 and thereafter enjoyed success in central Europe and America.
The company’s founder-director Jeff Clarke has researched available sources to come up with this new edition, presented in his own canny English version and with Francis Griffin’s skilful new orchestral arrangements for a hardworking pit-band of 12 players, which Toby Purser conducts with vigour and a keen sense of style. Musical values are consistently high.
The original was set in 16th-century Portugal, and deals with political and amorous complications centring on the young king (a trouser role, handled with suavity by Emily Kyte), his winsome queen (prettily sung and ably acted by Charlotte Knight) and the writer Cervantes – who somehow gets in on the act and is delivered with conspicuous matinee idol ebullience by William Morgan.
Clarke transfers the visuals to 19th-century Vienna, where Wanda D’Onofrio’s lavish costumes look splendid but the plot remains intractable and the show a little too long.
Yet it is remarkable how well the company do by a pretty thin piece, especially in some of the better numbers and clever comic routines that come along after the interval.
It is impossible not to warm to the savoir faire of Charles Johnston’s preposterous Prime Minister, Katharine Taylor-Jones’ glamorously knowing Marchioness and Nicholas Ransley’s expertly sung Don Sancho. The fact is that Clarke and his company know exactly what to do with these pieces, and by the end you’re cheering them on.