Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience ★★★★★

Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan is given a modern relevance at Wilton’s by Charles Court Opera.

If you were asked to name a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, chances are The Pirates of PenzanceThe Mikado or even H.M.S. Pinafore wouldn’t be far from your lips. Unless you were on TV’s Pointless, it’s doubtful that G &S’s sixth collaboration, Patience (or Bunthorne’s Bride), would come quickly to mind. So Charles Court Opera’s revival of their 2014 production is the perfect opportunity acquaint yourself with this boisterous comic opera. 

Photos by Bill Knight

This production updates the 1870s setting to a 21st century country pub, and Patience, originally a simple milkmaid, has become a barmaid of The Castle Pub. While the village’s (curiously Goth-styled) Melancholic Maidens  are swooning for the irresistible artistic ways of  Reginald Bunthorne, not realising that he’s a fraud who doesn’t even like poetry. Bunthorne, in turn, only has eyes for Patience while she, to complicate matters, is devoted to her childhood sweetheart, Archibald Grosvenor, who is a real poet.

Populated (as you might have guessed) with hilariously OTT characters, this one-time satire of the Aesthetic Movement – whose philosophy was Art for Art’s sake and whose chief proponent was Oscar Wilde – has just as much to say now about hero worship, vanity and fads. 

Patience has a nine strong cast without a weak link within their performances. Vocally you will find it hard to better this cast for a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. Due to the indisposition of Matthew Kellett in the role of Bunthorne, the audience enjoyed the welcome opportunity to see the director and artistic director of Charles Court Opera, John Savournin, assume the role. A star performer with his own company, ENO and Opera North, Savournin bring a languid and deliciously louche approach to the vain, peacockish Bunthorne, with a stunning vocal to boot.

Another standout comic performance comes from Catrine Kirkman as the most senior of Bunthorne’s love-struck devotees, Lady Jane. Channelling something of Catherine Tate’s Nan as she hobbles around the stage, singing about the ravages of time on her body, Kirkman is impressively skilful in mining the comedy and the sympathy of her role.

The sweeping musical accompaniment, by musical director David Eaton with only piano, allows the company’s accomplished vocal performances, and indeed Gilbert’s intricate lyrics, to take centre stage. Wilton’s is an ideal venue for Charles Court Opera who specialise in small venues to stage intimate, chamber performances and even though Patience was the first show to be staged at the Savoy in October 1881, it feels perfectly at home in this former Victorian music hall.

Gilbert and Sullivan may not be to everyone’s taste in this day and age, however Charles Court Opera certainly offers a fine and relevant take on one of the lesser known Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Without doubt, the audience at Wilton’s were delighted with their evening of entertainment.

A perfect chance to see Gilbert and Sullivan performed intimately and expertly – ★ (5 stars) 

Patience Tickets

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience plays at Wilton's until 26 August

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