Patience at the King’s Head
Gilbert and Sullivans’ Patience was first taken to the stage in the late 1800s, a critique on aestheticism and narcissism, and it has certainly not lost its relevance since. We may have moved on a couple of centuries but the conflict between the aesthetic and the deeper meaning of life (arguably the struggle within the term culture itself) stubbornly remains.
Under the direction of John Savournin, the pompous poet embodied by the character Reginald Bunthorne, enters the scene, immediately setting the tone of the opera as a parody of everything he stands for: shallow emotions, dishonest art and a laughable effort at depth of character. Nonetheless, the somber black plume of the broody poet beguiles the Melancholic Maidens, attempting to explain their love for this idyllic poet of a man to the bewildered Patience who does not understand the appeal of this pretentious aesthetic transcendence. Beautifully sung by Helen Evora, Amy Payne, Andrea Tweedale and Joanna Skillet, the Melancholic Maidens and Patience highlight the conflict between the apparent futility of aestheticism and the supposedly more meaningful sense of the socio-political.
Bunthorne admitting to his superfluity reveals the falseness of not only the aesthetic movement but also perhaps the current society we live in, with subcultures having emerged through the constant hunt for obscurity and the “yearn for the indefinable”. Narcissism appears unapologetically throughout the opera, culminating in the criticism of the obsession of appearances, successfully resonating with an audience that live in an age of unrelenting pressure to attain an unattainable beauty.
While its charm and wit is undeniable, Patience falls at the last hurdle with a somewhat flat ending, playing on the negative stigma attached to the “common” man via a quick costume change into velour tracksuits and gold hoop earrings – a rather insipid and uninspired caricature. Despite its flaws, Savournin has successfully given this opera a new lease of life as a pertinent satire. A witty script, endearing characters and snappy music make Patience a thoroughly enjoyable opera from which we could all learn something.
Patience is on at the King’s Head Theatre until 28th June 2014, for further information or to book visit here.