Last week I had one of my annual pleasures. I went to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in New Cross to see its production of Patience. HAHC is not, by the way, a fee-charging independent school although the Haberdashers Company is also involved with some of those. HAHC is an academy — originally two grammar schools, then a comprehensive school and later a City Technology College.
So its students are the ‘ordinary’ young people of south London, although this is a school with a fine reputation and therefore heavily oversubscribed.
I’m sure there are musical theatre groups all over the country who would kill for a company with half the youthful exuberance tempered with sheer talent, solid musicality and theatrical discipline as the group of teenagers in Patience - whose show is mounted from scratch every year in just three weeks as a post-exam, end-of-term project.
Male choruses are a perennial problem in amateur G&S but the boys playing the dragoon guards in this production sang beautifully, with excellent intonation, every word audible and a lot of hilarious stage business. The female chorus of twenty lovesick maidens was a joy to watch and hear too with all notes and words securely in place and some fine, well sustained acting.
And all this was accompanied by an outstanding orchestra consisting mostly of current and former Haberdashers students and a handful of their teachers. The sound was rich and strong, especially - and unusually - in the strings. John Skinner is no conventional conductor but he gets a marvellous musical sound out of his singers and players.
Amongst the principals, all of whom were good, Otis Enokido-Lineham was outstanding as Bunthorne, camping up the humour, spitting out the patter songs and performing, as almost all this cast does, with lightly worn but evident musicianship. Jack Jordan was an appropriately gentler, chubby faced Grosvenor. He too sings well and is very funny. They complemented each other perfectly especially in the ‘When I go out of door / Of damozels a score’ duet in Act 2.
Amelia Abrahamson as Patience, another fine actor, has a very clear, light silvery voice, almost free of vibrato, which made her seem suitably fresh and wholesome. And Heather Cluny’s delightful burgundy rich contralto as Lady Jane counterbalanced her. Heather Cluny is also a witty and watchable actor, having fun with her role as one of Gilbert’s passionate older spinsters.
This was also an exceptionally well directed production. Everyone on stage is fully focused and the energy never flagged. The choreography and movement work was fresh and imaginative too. As my son, himself a G&S singer and MD, who came with me remarked: ‘You’d pay £20 for an evening like this in the theatre and think you’d had jolly good value for money.’
In addition to all that, I’m struck by what a lot these young people learn though their summer opera project.. George Freeburn, ensemble singer at ROH and a HAHC parent teaches young Otis. ‘I had to explain a lot of what it means as we were learning the music’ Freeburn, a great enthusiast for G&S, told me in the interval’
They are all honing both musical and dramatic skills as well as getting the valuable lesson any production offers. Gilbert & Sullivan is the perfect training ground for young voices too. And they pick up such a lot of English (Gilbert’s wonderful vocabulary) and history.
I’m looking forward to next year already.