Winchester Operatic Society – Review of The Merry Widow (6–10 November 2012)

What an entertaining time we had at Winchester Operatic Society’s opening night of The Merry Widow.  Under the musical direction of Derek Beck the orchestra instantly put us in the mood for a lively evening.  Then Tony Ayres’ pacy direction grabbed the audience by the scruff of the neck and swept us through parties and balls with dollops of mystery and romantic intrigue.

Set in early twentieth-century Paris the operetta opens in the embassy of Pontevedro.  Everyone is agog at the impending arrival of Anna Glavari (Alison Bradley) who is recently widowed and has set up home in Paris.  Despite Anna’s humble origins she managed to pick up an extremely rich husband who fairly promptly died and left her a vast fortune.  There are suitors falling over one another to make closer acquaintance with this gutsy lady.  The fact that most of them are married already seems not to matter one jot.  Alison Bradley’s Anna is delightfully coquettish, flirtatious and highly colourful, in direct contrast with her stark black attire.

Baron Zeta (Tony Blackshaw), the ambassador, is desperately trying to divert Anna’s romantic interests towards a fellow countryman rather than one of these foreign chaps.  His reasons are eminently sound as it seems Anna’s fortune is so sizeable that the small, unstable country of Pontevedro would go bankrupt if she settled permanently abroad.  His preferred choice is the dashing Count Danilo, played to a tee by Adrian Hickford, an embassy official who spends most of his time drinking and debauching rather than on diplomatic duties.  What the ambassador does not know is that Danilo is Anna’s ex-lover.  And so the plot thickens.

Tony Blackshaw was a wonderfully pompous, stuffed-shirt ambassador.  He and his secretary Njegus (Graham Light) raised many titters as they treated us to dialogue reminiscent of scenes from Yes Minister.

A special mention must go to Katie Hickson’s performance as the ambassador’s wife, Valencienne.  The projection and clarity of her voice whilst singing and speaking was of the highest quality. 

A highlight of the performance was the ‘Women! Women! Women!’ song and dance routine by the leading gentlemen who, under the expert choreography of Suzanne Hall, knocked the socks off us with their light-footedness and finished off by wiggling their bottoms at the audience.  It was an unforgettable moment.

In the final act the cast and chorus were having such an amazing time that I wished I was up there with them, especially when they were joined by the Grisettes (played by a group from the Winchester School of Performing Arts) who performed the can-can with gusto.

This was a superb start to the Society’s centenary season. The show at the Theatre Royal ends tomorrow.

Penny Jeffreys