Robin Oakapple, describing his (mostly unacceptable) dastardly deeds to his ghostly ancestors:
"On Tuesday I made a false income-tax return.
"All: Ha. Ha.
"1st ghost: That's nothing.
"2nd ghost: Nothing at all.
"3rd ghost: Everybody does that.
"4th ghost: It's expected of you."
The "Compleat Gilbert and Sullivan" opens its second season at 9 tonight on Channel 26 with an almost perfectly delightful production of the ghostly romp "Ruddigore," too rarely performed in this country.
Almost, because once again producer Judith de Paul has opted to excise songs in order to shoehorn the production into a scant two hours, and she is particularly chop-happy on Sullivan's Verdi-esque finales to both acts.
Nevertheless, this utterly idiotic spoof of a ghost story is moved along with spirit and wit both by its cast and some artful production ploys that are more reminiscent of Monty Python than of D'Oyly Carte but are happily appropriate both to Gilbert and Sullivan and to television.
Briefly, the plot: Hero Robin Oakapple seems a pure, pleasant peasant, and Sweet Rose Maybud, who lives her life according to the dictates of an 18th-century Miss Manners, has quite fallen in love with him. But in fact he is secretly the Bad Baronet, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, hiding from the curse that requires each baronet to perform a daily crime or suffer an agonizing death at the hands of his Murgatroyd ancestors, who hop in and out of their portrait frames with rather more than phantasmagorical vigor.
Murgatroyd's younger brother Sir Despard -- who always looks twice his age from, no doubt, all those evil daily deeds -- has been carrying out the family tradition in the fishing village of "Rederring." Richard Dauntless, Oakapple's best buddy, rats on him to Sweet Rose because he wants her for himself, and, of course, duty requires he tell the truth, as in:
"I knew 'twould blight thy budding fate/ I knew 'twould cause thee anguish great/ But did I therefore hesitate?/ No I at once obeyed . . ."
Keith Michell, who was a reasonably good Don Alhambra in last season's "Gondoliers," is a quite satisfactory Oakapple, although his voice is just a tad weak for true Gilbertian patter-song delivery. Nevertheless, he does almost seem to take his verse of the "Matter, Matter, Matter" patter-song in one breath, which the late champion patterer Martyn Green always bragged he did.
Sir Despard, played with a nice air of put-upon, reluctant evil by our own maven of heh, heh, heh Vincent Price, does noticeably breathe during his "Matter" verse, but one is so taken up with his singing that his breathing "really doesn't matter, matter, matter, matter, matter, matter, matter."
"Ruddigore" followed upon the success, wild and enduring, of "The Mikado," and because nothing could really compare to "The Mikado," especially then -- almost exactly a century ago -- it was considered something of a failure.
Even the title was controversial. Originally it was spelled "Ruddygore" -- too much like "bloody," which Gilbert, of course, intended -- and Martyn Green, in his annotated G & S, quotes this exchange between Gilbert and an acquaintance:
Acquaintance: How is "Bloodygore" going on?
Gilbert: It is not "Bloodygore," it is "Ruddygore."
A: Oh. Well, that's the same thing.
G: Is it? I suppose, then, you will think that if I say I admire your ruddy countenance, it's the same as if I said I like your bloody cheek! Well, it isn't, and I don't.
Next month "The Pirates of Penzance"; in June, "The Sorcerer"; and in July, "Patience."