Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



PAUL McSHANE: Ruddigore suffers through the tradition of the typical Savoy comedian playing Robin. It would be interesting to hear what others think about this - when casting Ruddigore, should you give the Martyn Green of your troupe a holiday?

MICHAEL NASH: As someone who often finds himself cast in patter roles even when he doesn't audition for them or want them, I find it refreshing that within the patter role tradition, there is a role like Robin which is different - more heroic, more musical from the singer's standpoint and where I get the girl! I do get fed up with people telling me that I was born to play Ko-Ko (whom I loathe, as you all know) and then when Ruddigore comes along, to be told, "Sorry Mike, we want a heroic type for this show, we'll let you know when we want a d--head."

But then again, I'm really a frustrated bass, and would really prefer to play Sir Roderic or Sir Despard anyway. By the way, has anyone in the York area found a long black cloak? I lost it in 1991 . . . .

CHARLES SCHLOTTER: If he were truly the Martyn Green of the troupe, no. I would want him to work overtime, instructing the Richard Watson and Ann Drummond-Grant of the troupe in the niceties of breath-control so they could all do their verses of "My Eyes Are Fully Open" in one breath, instead of one making a brilliant impression and the other two left gasping.

Of course, the original of the typical Savoy comedian was a young man playing old. Fred Sullivan was no great age when he died and if Grossmith was born in 1847, then he was only 29 or 30 when he originated J.W. Wells.

Make him 39 or 40 at the Ruddygore premiere, a bit older than Robin, perhaps, but well within striking distance. And later in the run, the even-younger Lytton subbed for him.

Many years later, Lytton originated the 1920's revival but relinquished the role after a few seasons to a younger man.

Though I wish that Green had recorded the role in the 1930's, his recording is very well-sung (that Garcia training), timid and youthful-sounding.

In many (to which some add but others do not) amateur companies, of course, the principal comedian is an old man playing old. There, it might be advisable to assign the part to a younger man. But then the entire age-relationship of Ruddigore is topsy-turvy. Make Robin a younger man, then how can he be older than the Pooh-Bah baritone?

DAVID CRAVEN: Put me in the great minority, but with rare exceptions, I would give the patter person frequent holidays. I would not use him in Ruddigore, nor would I in Yeoperson, nor several others shows. (Of course this is assuming that the patter person can not sing. If you are fortunate enough to have a patter person that can actually sing (as we do in Chicago), this changes the equation once again, and in the Chicago G&S community we would refer to Martyn Green, Peter Pratt or John Reed as the D'Oyly Carte's Henry Odum . . .)

AARON HUNT: I must agree with Mr. Nash, who says regarding this vein that he finds Robin "refreshing" to play, something "different" from the other patter-roles, and that it's nice to "get the girl". Please don't relegate those of us who play the patter roles (please, no discussion of faches here, we wish to at least appear to be British) to Ko-Ko and Sir Joseph Porter.

There are really few of the "patter-people" in the canon who are not asked for lyrical singing at some point in the piece, and the ideal candidate for these roles needs, in most cases, to be capable of sustaining the lyricism of Sullivan's melodies. If we forfeit that ability to cast an actor without proper vocal training, we are making a "choice" that had better, for the sake of the production, have a hefty benefit elsewhere.

What a relief to play Robin, who is shy, and tries to change, who has a "love duet" with the soprano, who is, for me at least, a character ingenue as opposed to a character character. And yes, it's lovely to play someone who is "loved", even by the fickle Rose, and to end up "happily coupled" at the end for a change. I had the pleasure of playing Robin just south of Chicago three years ago at Illinois Theatre Center, and had a ball and learned just "gobs".

In a small theatre, with "electronic" music, a pared down chorus, a careful cutting of the score, and a different ear to the dialogue, the Director and Musical Director of the piece created something that audiences found completely appealing and assessable, and these were certainly not "operetta" or "G&S" audiences, or they weren't when they came in the door. As the "patter-person", I was able to, in this environment, abandon a heavier vocal production that is usually necessary over orchestra, and sing easily and, I hope, with more nuance than I can often carry in a big house.

It was sheer pleasure, the audiences came in droves, and the notices were very complimentary. As a G&Ser who doesn't usually believe that these pieces are to be fiddled with in any way shape or form, but as an actor who needed to eat being offered the lead in an equity production (please, the British thing again) I went in with trepidation and had a ball. One of the many careful cuts was Robin's final patter, which I didn't miss at all. It was rehearsed, and I found it to fall, for me at any rate, rather flat.

It is with sadness that I report that the Director of this piece, who was indeed planning future G&S productions, was tragically murdered last year, and I fear that this chance for our favorites may be lost to that company.

ED GLAZIER: In most productions of Ruddigore that I have seen or been involved in, the actor playing Despard seems to have been noticeably older than Robin, although Robin is the elder brother. Is there a practical reason for this in that of the actors who customarily play these roles, the Despards are just usually the older of the two? I suppose this could be explained by saying that Despard's life of crime has aged him prematurely. But then Robin has committed a daily crime by making his brother bear the hateful title. Gee, I hadn't thought of that particular explanation for Robin - he has been bad all these years, and not in the way that Despard comes up with in the second act (crime by proxy) but at least as an accessory by compelling Despard to commit the crimes.

Anyway, after having played Despard with a younger Robin, I was finally cast as Robin in a production where Despard really was younger than I. I had a staging idea that the director claimed to like, but which was never implemented, so I have no idea if it would have worked. I am, as they say, follically challenged. My idea was that as Robin, I would wear a wig to appear more youthful. In the Act I finale when Despard declares, "I claim young Robin as my elder brother", he would then rip off the wig, showing Robin to be clearly older than Despard. The few measures of "sensation music" would allow some time for the audience to recover if they were laughing as I had hoped. I don't know whether or not this would have worked, but I would have liked the chance to find out.

ARTHUR ROBINSON: Since Rose is a bride of seventeen summers, and Robin is 35 (according to the cut song), he is indeed a "husband twice as old as wife" (and a little bit over). Apparently, like Iolanthe (and Ralph Rackstraw), he wears well.

Page created 4 October 1997