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Culture: A trial to listen to Gilbert and Sullivan; Midland Music Makers Crescent Theatre, Birmingham.

Byline: Christopher Morley

This year's main offering from the Midland Music Makers opera company seemed a scaled-down operation.

With a run of only three nights and a matinee, a token orchestra which may as well not be there, and a double-bill of unusually-matched miniatures, the sense of compromise was pervasive.

But Amanda Laidler's production of Menotti's chilling The Medium was a triumph, strongly cast (Pat Nixon showing all her experience and classy vocal technique in the title role), economically staged and persuasively paced: a presentation worthy of MMM's highest traditions.

There was little to detain opera-lovers after the interval, however, for frankly it is difficult to find anything positive to say about a misguided, under-rehearsed and embarrassing production of Trial by Jury.

Sullivan's exquisite music went for nothing at the hands of a tiny and scrappy pit ensemble and a conductor who failed to get the best out of what was probably a willing stage complement. Entries were anticipated (one coming one whole number before it was due) and pitching was wayward.

Certainly there were some attractive timbres on display, as from Clive Thursfield's Judge (despite being up at the front in accident-proneness), Kym Sheargold's Plaintiff and the Defendant of Alex Laing (an exceedingly personable stage-presence, too). Best of the lot was the Usher of Sheila Giles.

And with that cross-casting we get a hint of the problem, for this was an updatedTrial by Jury, mobile phones, businesscard-toting hookers, tabloid snappers and all -but nowadays there is no such thing as breach of promise of marriage, which is what this trial is all about.

Gilbert's witty, charming libretto was vulgarly updated (the worst example being the imprecation 'bastard' instead of 'monster') in an attempt to bring 'relevance'. All this achieved was to cause continual confusion to the old-stagers who are used to singing the peerless original.

The whole thing had an air of desperation (the audience didn't even know when to applaud at the end) -a sad state for this noble company which has given Birmingham so many proud productions over nearly 60 years.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 7, 2003
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