by Edward German
Monday, 24th October to Saturday, 29th October, 1983
North Bromsgrove High School
“Merrie England” is a fictionalised account of an incident that occured in about 1592. It displays the three major themes of Elizabethan courtly life, ‘Love’, ‘Honour’ and ‘Duty’ – as derived from Castiglione’s influential volume ‘The Book of the Courtier’.
These themes echo at two levels, the ‘rustics’ providing both a mirror to and a comic relief from the Court of Elizabeth I.
The story is as follows:
It is May Day, the May Queen is to be crowned and all the rustic menfolk vie for her favour – all except Long Tom, Royal Forrester who loves Jill, the innocent woodland maid.
Consternation and confusion! The May Queen is jealous and accuses Jill of bewitching Long Tom. A ‘hue and cry’ ensues.
Sir Walter Raleigh and Bessie Throckmorton declare their love in a subtle and noble fashion. But he is supposed to love Queen Elizabeth, who expects all noblemen to love and admire her alone. He has written an ‘acrostic’ (a poem in riddle form) using Bessie’s initials in order to declare his love. Raleigh wants to tell the Queen of his feelings, but Bessie is afraid of the Queen’s well-known jealousy and anger.
Essex overhears the Bessie-Walter declaration and decides to disclose all to the Queen in order to cause trouble and to use the Queen’s displeasure to his advantage.
Walter Wilkins has also similarly caused trouble for Long Tom and Jill and also pretends to be enamoured of the May Queen. He encourages the notion of Jill’s witchcraft and pretends to be the May Queen’s champion while hiding behind any character close by.
Queen Elizabeth now enters and is confronted by the Essex-Wilkins disclosures, the acrostic initials are the same as hers, there is confusion again, but Raleigh, as the model of the Courtly Gentleman, refuses to allow the deception to continue and discloses the truth. Essex is delighted and Elizabeth, in a jealous rage, has both Bessie and Jill imprisoned for bewitching Raleigh and Long Tom.
How do the lovers untangle the web? Do they all end in the Tower or do we see a happy ending? The denouement awaits!
What The Press Said
Making Merrie Music
The Society’s production of Edward German’s most popular comic opera was rewarding.
Normally a producer of plays, Patsy Mustow brought out the best acting ability from the cast who all gave convincing performances.
The costumes and lighting were well thought out and the enthusiasm of the cast made for a very merry performance.
Merrie England is a fictionalised account of an incident that occurred in Elizabethan times and displays the three major themes of courtly life: love, honour and duty.
Baritones George Brooks and Martin Rutter played the part of Shakespeare’s players very well, giving lively and amusing performances.
Joanne Ludlow, mezzo, as Jill All Alone and Rachelle Phillips, soprano, as Miss Bessie Throckmorton were well cast and the audience appreciated their singing and acting.
It was a pity that there are so few men in the cast as there was a distinct lull during male-only singing parts in the chorus.
The orchestra, directed by Janet Bubb was excellent.
Chris Jervis Evening Mail
Operatic Society excels in Merrie England Performance
The days of Elizabethan England when good Queen Bess ruled the country came alive with the production of “Merrie England” by the Bromsgrove Operatic Society.
The operetta by Basil Hood – which was written not during the days of Shakespeare but the early part of this century – was full of all the enchanting ingredients of courtly life such as love, honour and duty.
And the traditions of May Day and witch-hunting added to the authenticity.
But perhaps the most convincing part of the whole production was the performers themselves. Each one lived their part to the full and looked as though they were thoroughly enjoying every moment of it. Their attitude undoubtedly made the operetta the great success it was.
Everyone, from the principal performers and singers, right through to the chorus and the huddle of busibodies in the corner, all displayed a very professional approach. A great deal of research by the producer had gone into the play as well as a lot of time spent rehearsing.
The costumes worn by members of the chorus were skilfully made out of the colours of the Magpie while the stage setting was kept effectively simple.
The orchestra made up in the main of music teachers, played excellently under the directorship of their talented conductress.
There were a few songs which were slightly less tuneful that the others but on the whole they were light and enchanting, especially the ballards entitled “Pipes of Pan” and “Oh t’is folly to run away from love”.
There were some noteable singers such as Pat Loboda whose sweet voice suited the part she played as the May Queen well.
Rachel Phillips who played Sir Walter Raleigh’s sweetheart Miss Bessie Throckmorton displayed a fine voice as did many of the other principal singers.
The most memorable moment of the play came when Queen Elizabeth – played by Ruth Henley and who, like Queen Bess herself, has striking red hair – was carried in on dais followed by her court jester and ladies in waiting.
The effect on the audience could not have been much different if the real Eliabeth I had entered.
Ann Feloy – Bromsgrove Messenger