Savoy Theatre March 1964

Once the repertory programme for a London Season had been settled, the next most important thing was to decide on the Last Night. By tradition, this was a 'surprise" evening when the programme was known only to Miss Bridget D'Oyly Carte and her immediate staff, unless there was a need for special rehearsals, even the members of the Opera Company themselves were not told what the programme would be until the day before.

Each London Season the choice of programme became more and more difficult and Miss D'Oyly Carte spent many hours considering various possibilities. So much had to be taken into account: every principal member of the Company, including any guest artist who had appeared during the Season. must be given a chance,' a fairly quick change of scenery was essential and, of course, all the scenery and costumes needed for the Last Night had to be kept back specially and then sent on to the next port of call the next day, which meant that the next week's programme in, say Timbuktu, had to be planned so that it did not open with "Mikado" if part of "Mikado" has been played at the London last night.

Suggestions for last night performances came in throughout the year from members of the public and these were always given fullest consideration and, in some cases, adopted or adapted.

In 1964 it seemed fairly obvious for the Company to sing some of the songs from "Utopia Limited", not only because of the public interest in this Opera but because the new Decca recording of excerpts from it had only recently been released. Public demand for "Sorcerer" was also considerable and there was, of course, the famous picketing of the Savoy Theatre by enthusiastic members of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society this season! So again it seemed natural to include numbers from this Opera. But how to bring them suitably into the programme? Someone had an inspired idea: John Wellington Wells was a sorcerer, and "Ruddigore" had a picture gallery of ghosts why not combine the two? And so it was done. The rest of the programme was worked out "Cox and Box" so that Alan Styler, Anthony Raffell and David Palmer could have their solos, Act II of "Patience" so that Philip Potter, Jennifer Toye and Mary Sansom could be seen and then - but what is this? The overture to "Princess Ida"? Yes, another tradition - the overtures played at a Last Night bore no relation to the scene about to be portrayed. The overture to "Ida" and the curtain rose on Act II of "Ruddigore". The audience were perhaps a little disappointed at this apparently banal denouement to a Last Night, especially when it was found that Robin Oakapple was being played by understudy Adrian Lawson instead of John Reed, but came the blackout and the picture gallery came to life with John Wellington Wells in the person of John Reed appearing from the central picture to sing his famous solo from "The Sorcerer" and to introduce, by means of his magic teapot, the rest of the Company in items from "The Sorcerer" and "Utopia Limited"; Thomas Round and Ann Hood to sing "Words of Love too loudly spoken", Jeffrey Skitch as Dr. Daly, the chorus in "Eagle High", Jean Hindmarsh singing "0 Happy Young Heart", Donald Adams and Gillian Knight in "Welcome Joy Adieu to Sadness", Thomas Round in "A Tenor all Singers above" and the chorus in the Finale from "The Sorcerer", "Now to the Banquet we press".

One final word about the costumes: these Last Nights were always a great strain on the Wardrobe Department, for instead of the usual performance with changes for perhaps some of the principles or some of the chorus, Mrs. Blain and her staff had to cope with costumes for about 50 people for at least three different Operas and on this occasion for two Operas no longer in the Company's repertory! And all this on a night when everything must be cleared out of the Theatre immediately after the performance! As everyone knows, the costumes for "The Sorcerer" were destroyed in the war and, of course, the "Utopia" costumes had long since gone, so costumiers were scoured for suitable garments for John Wellington Wells, Lady Sangazure, Capt. Fitzbattleaxe and Dr. Daly; a great deal of very careful research was needed for Dr. Daly's costume so that it should be ecclesiastically correct!

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