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Review from the Staffordshire Sentinel
Tuesday, 6 Feb 1923, pg. 21
North Staffs Amateur Operatic Society

Splendid Performance At The Grand Theatre

The North Staffs Amateur Operatic Society gave a splendid performance of "The Gondoliers" at the Grand Theatre, Hanley, last night and it was received with delight and enthusiasm by a large audience. The performances, which will be given each evening this week at half-past seven, with a matinee on Saturday at half-past two, have many aspects of interest. It is the first time that an opera has been given at the Grand Theatre, amateur or professional; and the large stage (several feet wider than that of the Royal, as a matter of fact) lent itself to unusually picturesque grouping of the chorus, in their pretty costumes of bright and varied colours, so charming to look upon. Mr. Sherwin's musicians have the co-operation of the always excellent Grand orchestra; the long overture, so reminiscent of the opera as a whole, was played with point and culture, which charcterised the orchestration throughout, so that it was a distinct and leading feature of the evening's enjoyment.

In the next place, the Society had been urged by many friends to do "The Gondoliers" again, as there were such happy recollections of the production by the Society in May 1919: and the former impressions are now confirmed, and still further improved upon, in singing and act and general charm. It is extremely gratifying to renew acquaintance with Miss Mollie Hackney, Mr. Frank Edge, Miss Gwynne Joy, Miss Jessie Machin, Mr. Douglas Maddock, and Mr. Ernest Butterworth in the same parts that they played at the Royal, and playing them better than ever, and it is a further very deep gratification to welcome a new-comer in Mrs. Bert Wilbraham, wife of the able stage manager of the Grand Theatre, who retired recently from her careen of professional singer, but has kindly come forward to co-operate with the amateurs. Her beautiful singing and her stage experience enable her to endow Casilda with particular distinction.

Mr. Douglas Maddock not only presents the Duke with due characterisation and fun, but carries his reputation as producer and stage director to greater heights than ever. There is of course a tremendous amount of unseen work in preparing for the production, and Mr. Douglas Maddock, who always has the very helpful collaboration of Mrs. Maddock, is the greatest genius amongst the amateur producers in this or any other part of the country, while the musical culture and the enthusiasm of Mr. and Mrs. H. E. Sherwin are of course also essential elements in the success achieved, for which everybody is grateful. Mr. Douglas Maddock has a phenomenal knowledge of these matters, together with a gift for training and inspiring his colleagues, and he has the proud satisfaction of knowing that the N. S. Amateur Operatic Society fully and more than maintains the position it has long enjoyed of being the premier amateur operatic society of North Staffordshire. Indeed, there seems to be a disposition to leave Gilbert and Sullivan to this Society, and for the Stoke-on-Trent Amateur Opera Society, the other Society playing in Hanley, to take up other musical comedies, which may be a good arrangement for all concerned, including the public, who are thus offered two rather different types of entertainment.

One other preliminary point may be mentioned here. When "The Gondoliers" was given at the Theatre Royal in 1919, Mr. C. L. Forrester was the Grand Inquisitor. Mr. Forrester's grand baritone singing is always a treat to listen to, but it is understood that his other preoccupations prevented his being able to pay such much attention to the long series of rehearsals as he would desire, so the part was regretfully relinquished, and it was accepted by Mr. Boullemier, who does not claim to be a finished singer, of course, but who gets through the musical numbers of the part very effectively, and by his appropriately unctuous acting and the proper self-conscious air of dignity, makes an outstanding success as Don Alahambra.

Now, with respect to the performance generally, the first question to be asked is does it 'tell the story'? Yes, it does, faithfully and fully and with remarkable zest. It is one of Gilbert's most whimsical plots; and the opera contains some of Sullivan's most delicious music. In both respects, in singing and in acting, the principals were worthy of composer and author, of the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition, and of the best achievement of the Society in the past; and the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus, in singing and vivacity, afforded some of the most resplendent chorus work known in local amateur opera, or for the matter of that in any opera, for no touring company can afford to tour such a large chorus. The principals, the chorus, and the orchestra achieved a well-balanced triumph.

There is one vital feature of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas that is important to be cognisant of and to act upon. The humour is droll, but it is also delicate, and the proper way to present it is not to play the characters as knowingly funny, but to present them 'seriously,' as if they were real people, the fun being derived from the unconscious humour of the characters, who do not intend to be funny, and who do not know that they are. It is thus seen what a difference there is between buffonery and humour that is [directed] to the pecularities of individuals, and circumstances, once the whimsicalities of the plot are understood and accepted. In this process, Gilbert has many a fling at human vanities and weaknesses, and and the operas become comments on contemporary thought and manners, for one reason why the Gilbert and Sullivan operas retain their pristine sparkle is that human[ity] is ever much the same, irrespective of place or time or social position, in which the humour is enshrined in such lovely music.

These principles are thoroughly grasped by Mr. Douglas Maddock and Mr. Sherwin, and have been assimilated by the members of the Society. Therefore, as we say, this week's performance of "The Gondoliers" maintain and carry to still further success the fine traditions of the Society by means of musical and histrionic talent and charm of those taking part in them, and again demonstrate their worthiness to be Gilbert and Sullivan exponents. The fun and the music, and the gaiety are irresistible, and we hope that large audiences will gather to support the society and to revel in the delights of the opera, so wonderfully presented.

This review was submitted to the G&S Archive by Louis Silverstein.

Updated 10 December 2003