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Trial by Jury/The Sorcerer review at Royal Hall, Harrogate – ‘double bill combines tradition with innovation’

A scene from National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company's Trial by Jury. Photo: DJ Stotty Images A scene from National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company's Trial by Jury. Photo: DJ Stotty Images
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Two works from the early years of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership are presented together and in contrasting manner.

Festival founder Ian Smith stages legal satire Trial by Jury in a style paying homage to the best of the old D’Oyly Carte traditions both in its overall look and finer detail. As someone who has performed leading roles under the direction of former stars of the company, Smith is unusually well versed in the niceties of their art.

The show provides half an hour of thoroughly engaging entertainment, with fine singing from a cast, many of whom return in the comparatively neglected village comedy, The Sorcerer. 

Here the socially progressive Alexis Pointdextre engages the services of Cockney spiv sorcerer John Wellington Wells to add a love potion to the tea at a village wedding – with predictably disastrous results.

A scene from National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company's The Sorcerer. Photo: DJ Stotty Image
A scene from The Sorcerer. Photo: DJ Stotty Images

Director John Savournin’s departure from the traditional period setting to something close to The Vicar of Dibley is a harmless intervention, while his feeling for both the sharp comic tone of the piece and its intermittent pathos is absolutely sure-footed.

Once again the strengths of the company’s chorus and orchestra provide a firm basis for both shows.

In two starring roles – the crusty Judge and the dodgy magician Wells – Richard Gauntlett shows his technique off to advantage. Matthew Kellett’s double act as Counsel for the Plaintiff and local vicar Dr Daly is a joy twice over. Nicholas Sales’ ardent tenor wins him success as the Defendant and the deluded Alexis.

Ellen Angharad Williams offers two strikingly different portraits as the manipulative Plaintiff and the high-minded Aline. Eddie Wade’s rustic Sir Marmaduke, Rosalind Griffiths’ bucolic Mrs Partlet and Emma Watkinson’s lovelorn Constance are all perfectly sketched in.

In the pit, conductor James Hendry shows a mastery of his craft and Sullivan’s style that will surely take him far.

See also:

Read our interview with James Hendry

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Well-balanced double bill combines tradition with innovation