8th - 12th October 2019
The Exeter Barnfield Theatre

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Sue Gunn-Johnson Director - The Grand Duke

It seems hard to believe that six months have passed since we were in the midst of performing 'Iolanthe' and here we are - about to start the new, and very special, 50th anniversary season.

It is a real honour to have been asked to direct 'The Grand Duke' for this 'golden' year - I am delighted, excited and really looking forward to all that is to come. It is an additional joy to be working with the talented Andrew Curtis - whom some of you know from previous productions. I salute his bravery in agreeing to work with this 'mad Director' and we have a real treat in store for you.

The music is a delight, and the group's well -earned reputation for excellent singing and playing is in very capable hands with Andrew. Rehearsals will start with sessions to learn that music (and we can add a workshop session on the music if people would find that helpful).

The Grand Duke was the last collaboration of the Gilbert and Sullivan duo and is rarely performed - hence a particular treat for audiences and company members. St David's Players themselves have only performed the show once in their fifty year history - presenting it to Exeter in 1986. I did not know the show at all eighteen months ago, but having listened to the CD repeatedly, I love it and can't wait to bring it all to life on stage.

Some of you have asked about the style of this production - there will be plenty of information as we go through rehearsals, but the following notes will give you some idea of what is to come.

The text is a typically topsy-turvy Gilbertian tale (possibly one of the most topsy-turvy he produced) in which sausage rolls, playing cards and multiple betrothals play a significant part. A brief (well - as 'brief' as the story permits) summary will appear shortly on the website and a more detailed synopsis which includes the musical numbers in context will be ready for the first rehearsal.

The show will be set in the Victorian period - hence special costumes for all, and at least two for almost all of the characters since the majority on stage are members of a theatre company about to perform Shakespeare's 'Troilus and Cressida'. For that reason, people have their everyday dress for 'rehearsing' with smarter additions for a wedding they are celebrating and then Greek costumes for the play they are due to present. The Grand Duke's entourage and the party from Monte Carlo will have formal outfits - quite shabby for the Duke - who is somewhat miserly (hence a plot to overthrow him) and very extravagant for the French contingent as befits the style of their appearance on stage.

The show has three sets (yes I know there are only two in the libretto, but I have asked for three!) which will reflect the Bavarian style of Pfennig Halbpfennig. The 1:15 scale model of the set is currently on my dining table and will be on display at the first rehearsal so that I can show you how the basic structure is transformed for the three different settings.

The script is long, hence there will be judicious cuts so that the audience leave wishing they could see more rather than checking their watches for time left at the bar or in car parking spaces.

Given my belief that in addition to hearing high quality music, audiences need lots to look at, you won't be surprised that I am going for every bit of humour I can find; that several cameo moments will be worked in; everyone will have their individual character to present and there will be lots of movement. The music also suggests some specific choreography (for example a Viennese Waltz, a Tango, a Bavarian Schuhplattler and a Can-can... and that's just for starters!). There will be things for everyone to do and a need for everyone to move safely on and back stage - but I shall not expect everyone to execute complex dance moves. There will be different elements for different groups and all will be rehearsed in detail (there might even be lots of film clips and emails with summaries to help you along the way... I hear your groans already!)

The show has a very extensive cast list with seventeen named principals, six chamberlains, six notaries plus a large acting troop who make up the chorus. There can be some doubling, but you will see from this that I need a lot of people on stage, and, as is the case with all 'theatre groups', Ernest Dummkopf's troop will be made up of people of 'all ages and appearance'!

In addition to this, there is a whole range of jobs that need to be done back stage and front of house, in advance of the show and during production week - so we shall be looking for teams of willing hands to help with all of that.

We shall be using the Chappell version of the vocal score (they will be available for loan at the first rehearsal if you do not have your own copy)

The libretto will be the version edited by Ian Bond which can be downloaded from here (but there will be several cuts)