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Musical Instruments on Stage
... We performed both pieces [Cox and Box, and Trial By Jury] with just piano accompaniment, apart from Cox (me) playing the guitar during the duet....
Did you really play it, or was it mimed? I was given a violin for the piece, and when asked at rehearsal if I could play the thing, I gave the stock answer, "I don't know; I've never tried". I suspect that the effect on the night was to have me looking like a cow with a cup of tea.
I really did!
In the 60's & 70's, I was one third of a folk trio called 'Triban', which had a modest degree of success, and in which I played guitar, banjo and mandolin. The tenor, one Rob Reynolds, who played Box, was the drummer in an equally successful rock band of the same period called 'Sassafrass'. Fans of our respective groups some 25 years ago would no doubt have been amazed to see the two of us singing many years later in a Savoy Opera. When a folk singer I enjoyed singing Irish 'Mouth Music' - 'Rocky Road to Dublin' etc., and when the folk singing stopped somehow it seemed a logical progression to sing patter parts in G&S.
Anyway when I suggested to the producer that I actually play the 'gay guitar' for the 'Buttercup' song she agreed and the duet went down very well, the local paper actually praising me on my musicianship. The only problem was to avoid singing it in a Bob Dylan voice and turning it into a Country Rock pastiche.
Rob Reynolds, as Box, didn't get to play the drums, of course, but two years earlier he had put his expertise to good use when playing Luiz in The Gondoliers.
But doesn't the libretto say that Cox should "play" the griddle during the duet? (I'm open to correction - I can't lay hands on the score at the moment.) Or, since griddles are not so familiar to us today, something like a frying-pan might do just as well. This always struck me as a really charming bit of business in Cox and Box -- a symbol, if you like, of finding romance in commonplace objects. (Morton's original farce was subtitled "A Romance of Real Life".) In the parlance of Yang People Today, Cox is simply playing air guitar - which, apart from anything else, is much easier to play than the real thing.
Andrew is absolutely right; the libretto does specify the gridiron (and also the bellows (? ), I seem to remember) as a substitute concertina for Box.
RALPH McPHAIL, JR.:
I believe the original libretto called for Box's hat to serve as his concertina.
Being ever so slightly George Formby orientated (ahem) I have to say at this point that there was a British variety entertainer (I don't know who) who used to play a musical frying pan. This was in fact a banjolele made from a real frying pan. I have actually seen and played this instrument and it is quite a novelty instrument that rattles along beautifully.
If I were ever to perform in Cox and Box, I should like to incorporate this into the duet. What a laugh it would be to pick up a frying pan mid-song only to reveal to the audience a real instrument.
I wonder if the duet would transfer well into 4/4 time to enable me to add a Formby-style uke solo ???? (Yes, I am only joking about this. Still....)
Back in the 'seventies I played Box in Comic Opera Guild's dinner-theatre production. Our minimal stage set featured an (admittedly anachronistic) hibachi, whose grill-plus-handle made a very nice impromptu guitar.
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Page Created 13 October, 2004