Bury St Edmunds.
THE POOR SOLDIER
by John O’Keeffe music by William Shield.
Theatre Royal To 3 July 2010.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 June.
More repertory restored in Suffolk.
Here is, says the Theatre Royal of the latest instalment in its Restoring the Repertoire programme of 18th and 19th-century plays, as rehearsed reading or full productions, the original Broadway Musical. Well, the piece has a fair number of songs, and made its way from London via writer John O’Keeffe’s native Ireland to New York, taking several variant forms along the way.
But it’s hardly a Broadway musical (much of the music, it’s believed, was arranged, rather than composed, by William Shield). Though the story’s background involves the American War of Independence, the perspective’s Anglo-Irish, including plenty of fun with stage Irishmen – the boisterous Darby rival in love to the quieter yet favoured Dermot.
And an outrageous (nowadays doubtless actionable) French stereotype, Bagatelle, whose antics probably had 1783 audiences chortling freely. The characters overall create a love-in-a-village story elevated by the rich (and therefore richly preferred in the view of priestly guardian Father Luke) army officer seeking the hand of the story’s more serious love-interest Nora, then giving her up to the common soldier she loves, and who had saved his rival’s life in the American Wars.
So, good nature and good sense ever join, with the bibulous self-serving priest staying an object of ridicule alongside the Frenchman. Action frequently gives way to songs, including some witty-enough lyrics for an age long before Cole Porter or Stephen Sondheim. It’s a pleasant piece of its time, without in any way transcending it.
But it’s fascinating to see, partly because it’s so much of its time. The acting often has a gestural quality that might be seeking period style, or might be a sign of stylistic uncertainty at times. And there are sections that could benefit from the attention of a movement director, if not a choreographer.
Yet all’s performed with a good will and openness that invites audience complicity in the very different mindset of the time. Everything’s clear and colourful in Colin Blumenau’s production on Mia Flodquist’s set, where the elegance suggested by a distant country mansion gradually fades into something still rural but less affluent and orderly.
Darby: Sam O’Mahony Adams.
Dermot/Bagatelle: Tarek Merchant.
Kathleen: Elizabeth Reid.
Fitzroy: Dominic Gerrard.
Father Luke: Neil Salvage.
Nora: Sioned Saunders.
Patrick: Daniel Sujmmers.
Director: Colin Blumenau.
Designer: Mia Flodquist.
Lighting: Shane Burke.
Musical Director: John Rigby.
Assistant director: Naomi O’Kelly.