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Merrie England - Reviews

The review of our performances of Merrie England at the Buxton International G&S Festival 2012: Matlock brings Tudor England to Life at Buxton International G&S Festival

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Derbyshire Times - Monday, June 18, 2012

Court in the Act

Gay Bolton
Reproduced by permission of the Derbyshire Times

'A bit of a do to celebrate the Queen’s birthday,' proved to be a jewel in the crown of productions by Matlock Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

Master of ceremonies David 'Mac' McKenzie may have downplayed the introduction to Merrie England on Saturday but there was nothing understated about the presentation at Bakewell’s Medway Centre.

From the regal and uplifting overture played by the eight musicians, under the baton of musical director Melanie Gilbert, to the pomp and pageantry of Queen Elizabeth I’s grand entrance, this production was a right royal triumph.

Well-delivered pieces such as Who Were The Yeomen? and When Cupid First This Old World Trod, O Peaceful England and O Who Shall Say courted favour with the large audience.

Jewel-rich costumes were fit for a Queen’s entertainers and a colourful kaleidoscope of movement and dance made the best use of the small performance space.

Max Taylor and Lesley Kraushaar did a first-rate job in their respective roles of Sir Walter Raleigh and royal maid of honour Bessie Throckmorton as did the show’s producer Nic Wilson in playing the scheming Earl of Essex.

Liz McKenzie’s performance as Queen Elizabeth I shone as brightly as the jewels on her gem-encrusted crown. She held the poker-faced, slightly detached and disinterested look right through to the final bow, only cracking her composure into a radiant smile after the rest of the cast had departed.

Chris Kraushaar played up the comedy element of the opera, as Shakespearean actor Walter Wilkins, giving a splendid alphabetical rendition of his take on Romeo and Juliet.

Resplendent in scarlet robe, Helen Booker painted the town red at the May Queen ordering her followers to embark on a witch-hunt. Target of the chase was Jill All-Alone, played by Wendy Costigan who came close to being upstaged by a twitching, blinking, meowing toy cat.

This new adaptation of Merrie England was a labour of love by Max Taylor who had shortened Basil Hood and Edward German’s lengthy creation. Max’s work found favour with those familiar with the piece; one spectator who had performed in full-length productions said that the shortened version had not lost its impact.

Just a minor gripe with the accompanying music, which was a tad too loud for a couple of the solos performed by Wendy Costigan and Lesley Kraushaar. But overall, this production crowned two decades of Matlock G&S Society’s reign.

Merrie England will be staged by the society again on Sunday, July 29, at the Pavilion Theatre Buxton, as part of town’s International G&S Festival.

NODA - Thursday, June 14, 2012

Joyce Handbury

What better way to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee than with a performance of Merrie England the plot of which gives a fictional glimpse into the time of the first Queen Elizabeth but many of the characters and relationships are based on real people.

The story tells of the rivalry between The Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh for the affections of the Queen but unbeknown to Essex, Sir Walter secretly loves her Maid of Honour Bessie Throckmorton. The action takes place around 1589 on May Day and the May Queen decides that a witch hunt would be a suitable addition to the celebrations.

The original piece by composer Edward German and librettist Basil Hood was deemed to be too long and with twenty five principals and a full orchestra Max Taylor set about the task of making it more relevant and more accessible for a small society to perform and decided on a chamber-like approach to the sound with just eight musicians.

Max also took on the role of Sir Walter Raleigh and what an outstanding performance he gave as did Lesley Kraushaar as Bessie Throckmorton and Nic Wilson as the Earl of Essex all three were excellent in their respective roles. The May Queen was splendidly played by Helen Booker and the love of her life Walter Wilkins, a Shakespearean actor, was gloriously portrayed by Chris Kraushaar who squeezed every ounce of comedy out of the role and his A - Z rendition of Romeo and Juliet was superb. Queen Elizabeth was majestically played by Liz McKenzie and I loved Wendy Costigan as Jill-all-alone her delivery was gentle and so natural and her voice suited the part perfectly and sitting in her arms was an all-moving, all-purring white cat - a definite scene stealer! David Stokes as Long Tom and Richard Simmonds as Big Ben gave fine performances as the Royal Foresters. Not to be outdone the excellent singing and acting of the Townsfolk of Windsor added that extra dimension to the whole performance as did the first rate orchestra.

The costumes were truly magnificent and the finale to the reprise of ‘Long Live Elizabeth’ was a rousing end to what had been a superb show and all performed in the smallest of spaces and when the Queen made her final entrance in all her regal splendour it was really quite moving. Congratulations to all and especially to Nic, Melanie and Max and the icing on the cake is that the society are honoured to have been asked to perform it (twice) at the International G&S Festival at Buxton at the end of July as part of their opening weekend celebration of the Jubilee.