Review: Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at Cambridge Arts Theatre - it’s joy and rapture

English Touring Opera bring Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience to Cambridge Arts Theatre

English Touring Opera bring Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience to Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

This is an enchanting evening. English Touring Opera’s Patience is fizzing, buzzing, funny all the way through and delightful. It’s a confection of perfection.

Every note is a joy, every dance step is rapture. This is a charming glimpse into Victorian theatre and shows that the Victorians knew how to laugh at themselves and let out their laces.

The entire plot is a satire on society, as with every Gilbert and Sullivan. This time, the target is the aesthete - the self-conscious, posing artist who distains the ordinary. He is the suffering soul, who, damn it, is so very attractive to young women. To the point where they distain the ordinary, hard-working chap.

In Patience, the chorus of wilting maidens even turn up their noses at brave soldiers, the very ones they were actually engaged to last season. This year, they have eyes only for the poet.

It’s a parody of pretension and that wasn’t exclusive to the Victorian age. Anyone who took a delight in Richmal Crompton’s William books (written from the 1920s to the 1960s) will recognise the artistic types seeking the simple life in a country cottage who mistake the irrepressible William for “a dear little child”.

Patience the milkmaid (an entrancing Lauren Zolezzi) is the only woman in the opera who is not in love with the poet Reginald Bunthorne (a wonderfully lithe Bradley Travis). Why should I love you, she asks. “You’re not a relative.”

Unlike the others, she has never been in love. When she later realises she does love her childhood friend, rival poet Archibald Grosvenor (a marvellously comic Ross Ramgobin) she decides she can’t marry him because she is assured by the chorus of lovesick maidens that love must be a sacrifice. So marrying a man she doesn’t love is nobler.

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By the end of the story, after Archibald decides to change his stance and become an ordinary chap, she realilses he will be much duller, not half so romantic and therefore she can marry him after all, with a good conscience.

Both Bunthorne and Grosvenor were regarded when the opera opened as so like Oscar Wilde that the Doyly Carte Opera Company paid Wilde to go on a lecture tour in America to promote the show.

This production entertains supremely from the opening moment to the end. It’s the stuff that makes you feel good to be alive or even the reason you still are.

It was particularly pleasing to see Andrew Slater who had been such a terrifying thug as Baron Scarpia in Tosca the night before (a real psycho) mellow into kind Colonel Calverley in charge of the red-coated soldiers who all looked like toys. He was such a teddy bear that I wanted to take him home. Oooh don’t you like a performer with range. It’s enough to turn you into a love-lorn maiden.

There’s one more day to see this show in Cambridge. Cancel whatever you are doing and go. It’s balm for the soul.

English Touring Opera presents Patience at 7.30pm on Thursday, April 27 and Tosca on April 28 and 30.