The 1971-72 seasons came to a close at Sadler's Wells Theatre on February 12th 1972. The last night was, as usual, billed as ? ? ? and on this occasion it was just as well, as "Patience Act I, Iolanthe Act I" would scarcely have been a fair description of what actually happened.
The proceedings opened with the Overture to Di Ballo, conducted by Royston Nash; and those were the last serious moments for some time to come. When the curtain rose for the first Act of "Patience", the lovesick maidens were having a hilarious time singing to the conducting of Peggy Ann Jones, while Will Cowley was in charge in the pit. Peggy Ann Jones' Lady Angela, and others too, proceeded to get laughs undreamt-of by Gilbert. Linda Ann Hutchison entered as Patience, and when she reached the end of the first verse of "I cannot tell what this love may be" she produced a pint of Gold Top from her pail and offered it to Peggy Ann Jones. Later in the song the laughter made her almost inaudible when she left a pint, so to speak, on Pauline Wales' doorstep.
After the entry of the Dragoons and the Duke's "toffee" dialogue, Ralph Mason left the stage, and Colin Wright came on dressed as a Dragoon and carrying a large mock-up cardboard candle, which he placed at the front of the stage (in case of a power cut!) before bursting into "The Duke's Song" which was cut even before the first performance and, as far as is know, had never been sung by the Company.
After various cuts, bits of funny business, and straight playing they eventually reached "Oh, Hollow! Hollow!", at which point John Reed switched into "Sighing softly to the river", for all the world as though he were an aesthetic Major-General.
To Lady Jane's horrified cry of "Red and yellow! Primary colours! Oh, South Kensington!", the Duke replied, "Goffin designed our uniforms and we don't see how they could be improved."
In a "Patience" of this type, with lots of gags and a certain number of totally extraneous insertions, there had to be cuts, and quite a lot of speeding-up. John Ayldon, indeed, first put his uniform on in such a hurry that he must surely have left some of his buttons undone!
Then Bunthorne entered with "Am I alone and unobserved?", draped from head to foot in a black cloak. When he threw it off at "This costume chaste Is but good taste Misplaced", he revealed the most ghastly red-and-white striped affair which might have been a footballer's one-piece outfit or a man's bathing dress in the 1890s; above this he sported a bow-tie and a straw hat. When the laughter had subsided sufficiently he launched into "My name is John Wellington Wells", and the dance steps he used for "The Sorcerer" looked even more comic with bare knees, a fact of which he took full advantage in his facial expressions.
After Bunthorne's song with Patience, the audience may have been expecting Lady Angela, but they certainly weren't expecting her to enter in her Mad Margaret wig, let alone to tell Patience about her affidavit that had died. When this hilarious scene had finished everyone was ready for another bit of straight playing. Grosvenor came in to sing "Prithee, pretty maiden" with Patience. Kenneth Sandford, however, had evidently been misinformed about the opera that was being played, as he appeared dressed as Pooh-Bah. Recognising Patience, he retreated nervously into the wings and re-entered in Grosvenor's wig but of course still with Pooh-Bah's costume and fan. Halfway through "Prithee, pretty maiden" he attracted the attention of someone in the wings and managed to get rid of the fan. Needless to say he brought down the house with his first line of dialogue: "Patience! Can it be that you don't recognise me?"
Moving on to the auction Jon Ellison came in dressed as a bookie with a betting-board and smoking a cigar. He smoked the cigar so intently that he seemed to be quite unaware that at one moment he was nearly choking Linda Ann Hutchison with the smoke. However, this too was turned to good account with a neat gag.
The fall of the curtain brought an interval which gave the audience plenty of time to comment on the unorthodox happenings of the first half and to speculate on what was to come after. It turned out to be Mr. Lloyd in John Reed's straw hat, but not for long - only long enough, indeed, to direct everyone's attention to the orchestra pit to welcome an old friend, Isidore Godfrey. He conducted an extraordinarily amusing pot-pourri in which the Pinafore introduction switched quickly into the Pirates; where anyone who was expecting a pair of sparkling eyes suddenly found he had become a thing of shreds and patches; where the Ghost's song seemed to be sung by an extraordinary ancestor who suddenly began to speculate "Were I thy bride"; and where delicious references to "For he is an Englishman" and the Ruddigore hornpipe and other firm favourites were introduced and handled in a way that was always amusing as well as easy on the ear.
Then Isidore Godfrey left the pit to make way for Royston Nash once more, and the company started on a very strange first Act of "Iolanthe". The fairies tripping hither and thither had taken a leaf out of Strephon's book and were fairies down to the knees but below the knees seemed to be either footballer's or clodhoppers or mountaineers. When Iolanthe was summoned from the deep she was half fairy, half diver, and Peggy Ann Jones made most amusing play with her snorkel and her flippers. Strephon wore the kilt and looked more Arcadian than Arcadian. Michael Rayner's antics with the bagpipes were well matched by Linda Ann Hutchison's very Scottish Phyllis. Her East Scots accent was a delight, and it made her first dialogue with Strephon wildly funny.
What next? Good Heavens! Here comes Rose Maybud to teach the rough Scots some etiquette. When Julia Goss was followed by the music of the Peers' entry, their Lordships' procession was headed by the Sentry and a hot-panted girl drummer, and was joined downstage by three Life Peeresses - Beti Lloyd-Jones, Janette Kearns, and Anne Egglestone. One of the most hilarious moments of the evening came when the linking-up of the two wheeling halves of the Chorus brought two of the Peeresses face to face; they threw up their arms in delight, exchanged kisses, and started a lovely gossip, holding up the rest of the procession.
The Lord Chancellor was carried on in a sedan chair. He sang "The law is the true embodiment" through the window, but soon emerged to reveal an excruciatingly funny pair of long arms which reached to the ground. John Reed's brilliant use of these proved once again that he is a true comedian.
After this the progress was fairly straight apart from cuts, until a toothless, tattered, and unshaven Fairfax (Colin Wright) sang "Free from these fetters grim" carrying what could best be described as a ball and chain. The Finale quartet brought a Chorus looking rather more like the edge of Birnham Wood than the inside of St. James's Park, but it included a good slapstick hedge. Just as the audience wondered what was coming next, Julia Goss switched abruptly into the Act II Finale of "Princess Ida" which just goes to show: you can't keep Ida down!
The reception at curtain fall was rapturous. The Lord Chancellor produced a scroll which, unfurled, read "Save Sadler's Wells". No need: the audience was already doing its best.
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