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Martins Operatic Society in The Grand Duchess by Offenbach

Staged: 23 to 27 March 1971 at the Neptune Theatre Liverpool

We now find ourselves firmly in unfamiliar territory. Yes, 1971 would have been the twenty-fifth anniversary of Martins BANK Operatic Society, but under new owners Barclays, the word “bank” has had to be removed from the title of our merry band of performers.  Still, this situation does provide a certain amount of homage to Martins Bank and the chance to continue showing the world what an amazingly talented bunch they are! That productions will continue to be staged by Martins Operatic Society until 1980 is surely testament to the solid foundations of the society itself, and the commitment of a large number of staff from both Banks to staging light opera and musical comedy on Merseyside.  The operetta is produced under the auspices of the rather grandly titled Barclays Bank “ARTS COUNCIL” whose name does seem to confer more than a whiff of pretentiousness upon itself, but never mind, the show goes on and that’s the main thing.  As we will learn below, the first night is beset with problems, not least TWO of the lead performers being absent, and the fact that this is the Silver Jubilee Year presentation of the Society makes their professionalism in keeping calm and carrying on all the more heroic.  Remember that many of the society’s members have been on stage or back stage since the start, so they won’t let the small matter of being two cast members down, get in the way of giving the audience a good time! “The Grand Duchess” is a great choice for this important anniversary year, and whilst Martins Bank Magazine is no longer on hand to provide its usual “blow-by-blow” critique, we are left with a copy of the original programme, which gives us a synopsis of the plot, along with the details of those who have come together to perform, stage and produce the show. Thanks to our friends at the British Newspaper Archive, we can also bring you “All right on the night” a review by Hughie Ross in his column The Amateur Stage from the Liverpool Echo…

 

The Grand Duchy of Gerolstein is in trouble. Its Grand Duchess, who spends more time with ‘affairs’ than affairs of State, refuses repeatedly to marry Prince Paul of the neighbouring state of Pfiffelhofen. Her Prime Minister, Baron Puck, declares war on nearby Schuffclburg, in order to give her something else to think about. Whilst reviewing a platoon of the Royal Grenadiers the Duchess’s eye lights upon Fritz, probably the most inept private in the army. To satisfy a whim she rapidly promotes Fritz to the rank of Captain, to the horror of the Commander-in-Chief General Boom, but the delight of Fritz’s sweetheart Wanda. General Boom unfolds his war plan which Fritz, who knows the country, points out to be unworkable. The Duchess is so taken with Fritz’s alternative plan that she raises him to the rank of General and sends him off to lead the army. Fritz wins the war with a piece of the most un-text book like strategy, which further infuriates Boom. The Duchess, however, is even more determined to add Fritz to her collection. Meanwhile Paul, Boom, Puck and Grog have drawn lots to decide who will eliminate Fritz. Paul wins the honour, but completely bungles the affair. During the melee the priceless Sword of State is lost. The Duchess, now tiring of Fritz’s devotion to Wanda, is outraged at the ‘priceless relic’s’ loss and gives Fritz twenty-four hours to find it or be shot. Despite the overhanging threat of doom, Fritz and Wanda are married; and when the Duchess informs Fritz that the time is up and the Sabre still missing, Baron Grog, Pfiffelhofen ambassador, suggests that any man who now produces the Sabre will be a hero worthy of her hand in marriage. The Duchess agrees, and a masked stranger appears carrying the Sabre. Amid general rejoicing everybody gets, if not what they want, certainly what they deserve.

 

All right on the Night…

The name of the Society might have changed, but our performers are still in the very safe hands of Hughie Ross, who is a veteran reviewer of Martins Bank Operatic Society performances in his popular column “The Amateur Stage”.  His reviews are to the point, but usually gentle, with a nod to the complexities of putting on a show.  It is interesting to note that as late as 1971 – and following the sexual revolution of the late 1960s – the word  word “gay” is still being used by Hughie Ross to indicate “happy”,“bright”, “joyful”…

{Celebrating their silver jubilee, Martins Operatic Society presented the premiere of Offenbach’s comic operetta, The Grand Duchess at Neptune Theatre and made it a very gay occasion.  Despite a first night blow when two of the principals were unable to appear, they coped splendidly with a little cast switching and liberal use of the script-in-hand technique by the substitutes Tony Clare and Gerry Smith. 

The story concerns the affairs of the Grand Duchess of Gerolstein who refuses to marry the Prince of a neighbouring State and casts her favours on a private soldier, finally promoting him through various ranks in quick succession up to General with comical results.

Pat Carrier as the Duchess not only had a roving eye but a lovely voice and a charming presence, and John Bowen made the erstwhile member of the awkward squad a very lively General indeed. He entered into the spirit of burlesque perfectly and sang well, particularly his solo “ How the War was Won” and with his peasant-girl fiancée Wanda (Valerie Mudd) and the Duchess.

Ian Wilson was in splendid voice as the displaced General and with Ken Jones (he also produced), as the rather precious Prince Paul. Tony Clare, John Milne and Gerry Smith became lively conspirators at they tried to foil the Duchess. 

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A big prop in every sense of the word was the huge ceremonial sabre with which great play was made. The chorus work throughout was very good under the able direction of Derek Sadler, who also controlled the orchestra in great style}.

Image and Text © Reach PLC

and Find my Past created courtesy of

THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image and Text reproduced with kind permission of 

The British Newspaper Archive

Just how many dedicated people does it take to stage a three-act operetta over FIVE nights to the general public?  Even after a change of name AND weekday employer, Martins Operatic Society is alive and well, and continues to delight audience throughout the 1970s…

With special thanks to the late, great Beryl Creer.

M