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Trial by Jury review at Lilian Baylis House, London – ‘lacks charm’

Natalie Montakhab and the ENO Chorus in Trial by Jury at Lilian Baylis House, London. Photo: Sarah Ainslie Natalie Montakhab and the ENO Chorus in Trial by Jury at Lilian Baylis House, London. Photo: Sarah Ainslie
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Staged as part of ENO Studio Live, a series of studio events officially designed to give staff directors and chorus members greater exposure, this energetic stab at a D’Oyly Carte favourite is oddly conceived.

It can be booked it in tandem with Jonathan Dove’s brand new opera, The Day After, or less economically as a standalone one-act show, but it is really too slight to carry an evening on its own.

Gilbert and Sullivan fans will be drawn by the participation of a surprisingly experienced cast headed by the Learned Judge of Richard Suart, who recorded the role more than 20 years ago and is probably Britain’s leading exponent of the patter song.

True to English National Opera’s original brief, two choristers, Pablo Strong as the Defendant and Paul Sheehan as Foreman of the Jury, step up to solo roles. Strong in particular offers an accomplished, vocally confident portrayal of Gilbert’s anti-hero.

Adding a few contextual trimmings to the municipal green of the venue, Matthew Monaghan’s modern dress show reimagines a skit on Victorian pomposity as an up-close-and-personal critique of contemporary celeb excess. The lighting takes us from courtroom to ballroom but cannot impart the missing ingredient of charm.

The 32-strong chorus – nicely differentiated jurymen sat opposite an interpolated cohort of wedding guests – feels disproportionately large in the absence of orchestral accompaniment. With niceties of style and instrumentation passed over, the evening retains the aura of a student jape despite taut and committed performances, including an able account of the piano reduction from Murray Hipkin.

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A mildly provocative, deliberately unlovely Gilbert and Sullivan revival