All you need to know about Gilbert & Sullivan’s send-up of Victorian gothic melodrama – right here!

What is the story?

The Baronet of Ruddigore, Sir Despard Murgatroyd, has inherited a family curse which forces him to commit a crime every day — or die in agony. He hates the curse, doing his heinous misdeeds as early as possible and good works for the rest of the day to compensate!

It’s a huge relief, therefore, when his long-lost elder brother and true heir to the curse, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, turns up. He has been masquerading as ‘Robin Oakapple’ and is about to be married to the primly perfect Rose Maybud.

Sir Despard insists that ‘Robin’ resumes his real identity as the Bad Baronet, which ruins his romance with Rose. But Sir Ruthven’s troubles really start when his crimes, so pathetic, drag his exasperated ancestors back from the dead to haunt him…

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Grant Doyle as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd with the ghosts of Ruddigore, 2010 © Robert Workman

Who are the characters?

Robin Oakapple — actually Sir Ruthven (pronounced Rivven) Murgatroyd (baritone)
Sir Despard Murgatroyd — the current Bad Baronet (bass-baritone)
Richard Dauntless — Robin’s foster brother (tenor)
Sir Roderic Murgatroyd — a former Bad Baronet (bass)
Rose Maybud — engaged to both Robin and Richard alternately (soprano)
Mad Margaret — in love with Sir Despard (mezzo-soprano)
Dame Hannah — Rose’s aunt and former fiancée of Sir Roderic (mezzo-soprano)

There is also a chorus of professional bridesmaids, villagers and a host of ghostly ancestors…

Grant Doyle as Robin Oakapple and Amy Freston as Rose Maybud, 2010 © Robert Workman

What is this production like?

This “worthy of cult status” ★★★★★ (The Guardian) staging by director Jo Davies, first seen in 2010, updates the action from the Napoleonic era to the 1920s.

We’re in the era of silent cinema, and it’s a “masterstroke” (The Guardian), the perfect setting for moustachioed villains and plenty of cloak swishing! A silent movie plays during the overture to tell the opera’s ghostly back story, there are nods to horror films of the time, and Mad Margaret’s look resembles early cinema screen icon Theda Bara. To ground us further in the 1920s, the ghost of Sir Roderick wears full WW1 military uniform, hinting at his family’s involvement in the carnage…

The gothic Ruddigore Castle in Act II is a spectacular sight. Look out for works of art in the portrait gallery coming to life and morphing into chorus members in a “dazzling coup de théâtre” ★★★★ (The Telegraph).

See production photos

Grant Doyle as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd with the late Richard Angas as Old Adam Goodheart, Ruddigore 2010 © Robert Workman

What is the music like?

Ruddigore is an operetta (a light opera), which means it mixes song with spoken dialogue and often dance. Like much G&S, many of the tunes are so catchy you’ll be humming them for days afterwards! Yet some numbers, like “When the night wind howls” are darkly dramatic, with plenty of storminess in the orchestra…

It also features a classic patter song in “My eyes are fully open” — tongue-twisting rhyming text sung at a very rapid tempo (think “I am the very model of a modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance).

Who wrote it?

Ruddigore was composed by the great Victorian duo of W.S Gilbert (who wrote the words) and Arthur Sullivan (the music). They collaborated on 14 comic operas between 1871 and 1896, most famously H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. Ruddigore was number nine, premiering in 1887.

The pair were brought together by theatre manager Richard D’Oyly Carte, whose life’s ambition was to make comic opera as popular in England as it was in France. Their work often parodies the society and political situation (which sometimes seems strangely familiar to our own!) that they lived in, with elements of fantasy and the absurd thrown in.

Today, G&S still has a cult following — the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, as well as G&S societies all over the world, are alive and thriving! What’s more, references often crop up in film and TV, from The Simpsons and Family Guy to Despicable Me, introducing new audiences to Gilbert & Sullivan all the time.

Drawing of Gilbert & Sullivan by Alfred Bryan, 1878

Did you know?

Ruddigore is a satire of Victorian gothic melodrama, popular at the time on the stage and in novels, but Gilbert turns all the genre’s stereotypes upside down. The villain becomes good, the hero becomes the villain, the “virtuous” maiden casually swaps lovers, AND it has a happy ending!

— In 1881, D’Oyly Carte opened his own theatre specifically to showcase the work of Gilbert & Sullivan — The Savoy Theatre in London’s West End (that’s why G&S works are known as the ‘Savoy Operas’). The theatre was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity!

— Gilbert & Sullivan’s partnership famously ended over… carpet! D’Oyly Carte took £500 for The Savoy’s new carpet directly out of the profits for The Gondoliers, and it was the last straw. Gilbert was furious, while Sullivan, who had his own reasons for wanting to stay in D’Oyly Carte’s good books, would not support Gilbert. A nasty legal argument followed, and the duo’s relationship never really recovered.

Ruddigore is sung in English with English titles and lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes.

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