Director

THE GRAND DUKE

By WS GILBERT and SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN

Directed by Martin Milnes
Musical Direction by John Owen Edwards
Choreography and Associate Direction by Brendan Matthew
Designed by David Shields
Produced by The New Actors Company in association with Neil McPherson

FINBOROUGH THEATRE, 2012

Martin directed the first professional revival of THE GRAND DUKE, Gilbert and Sullivan's last operetta, originally staged at the Savoy Theatre in 1896.

MIKE LEIGH: "Sparkling musically, and performed with great wit and youthful enthusiasm, Martin Milnes' hilarious production of 'The Grand Duke' is like a breath of fresh air. It totally destroys the myth, once and for all, that Gilbert and Sullivan's last opera is a damp squib not worth reviving. On the contrary, the piece is a neglected classic."

GYLES BRANDRETH: "In Martin Milnes' production The Grand Duke looks less like Gilbert and Sullivan's forgotten curiosity and more like an unduly neglected gem. It's wonderfully engaging: funny, fresh, and uncannily contemporary. The performances are tip-top and now and then over-the-top, too, in exactly the right way. Gilbert the satirist and farceur gives it full throttle, Sullivan delivers (and some) and the Milnes company sing, dance and play it up a storm. What a treat."

FENELLA FIELDING: "Martin Milnes' smashing production, wonderfully cast, ensured that 'The Grand Duke', newly-discovered, was a joy from start to finish."

SYNOPSIS

In the Grand Duchy of Pfennig Halbpfennig, the theatrical troupe of Ernest Dummkopf is plotting a conspiracy to overthrow the tyrannical Grand Duke Rudolph. Ludwig, the troupe's leading comedian, fights a number of "statutory duels" and finds himself taking the place and the title of the Grand Duke ... but when legions of women arrive to claim Ludwig in marriage to become his Grand Duchess, including an indignant leading lady, an enormously wealthy old battleaxe, and even the Princess of Monte Carlo, how will matters resolve themselves?

With the aid of an eclectic array of travelling players and aristocrats, four weddings and enough sausage rolls to last several lifetimes, Gilbert and Sullivan's final 'Savoy Opera' is full of Topsy Turvy paradoxes, legal conundrums and absurdities of etiquette.

CAST (In order of appearance)

Bertha Tammy Davies
Elsa Ciara O'Connor
Franzel Matthew James Willis
Rudi Stiofan O'Doherty
Otto Mark Lawson
Ludwig Stefan Bednarczyk
Lisa Victoria Byron
Dr Tannhäuser Bruce Graham
Ernest Dummkopf Philip Lee
Julia Jellicoe Charlotte Page
Head Chamberlain Curtis Dabek
Chamberlains Matthew Markwick
Guy Mott
Ben Newhouse Smith
Robin Rayner
Grand Duke Rudolph Richard Suart
Baroness Von Krakenfeldt Sylvia Clarke
Herald Curtis Dabek
The Prince of Monte Carlo Martin Lamb
The Princess of Monte Carlo Jane Quinn
Ben Hashbaz Robin Rayner
Viscount Mentone Guy Mott
Supernumeraries Matthew Markwick
Ben Newhouse Smith

REVIEWS

THE GUARDIAN (Michael Billington)
One can only salute the heroic dedication of director Martin Milnes and ... gawp with astonishment at the commitment shown by the cast ... Richard Suart as the peppery Grand Duke and Stefan Bednarczyk as the claimant to his title show all their professional expertise, Charlotte Page is memorably acidic as the jaundiced Julia, and Bruce Graham deserves special mention for his faultless articulation of a notary's convoluted number. John Owen Edwards' musical direction also does full justice to Sullivan's score.

SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN SOCIETY (Stephen Turnbull)
The best Grand Dukes are those which do not apologise for the material, make judicious - not sweeping - cuts and play to the opera's strengths. Director Martin Milnes realised this and kept the comedy broad ... The laughs came thick and fast ...

All told this revival was a triumph, reflecting credit on everyone connected with it. To Martin Milnes and John Owen Edwards are due especial praise, not just for the extent to which they deployed their own talents, but also for getting together a quite astonishing cast.

NOW WE ARE SIXTY

A Play with music based on the life and works of AA Milne

Written by Gyles Brandreth and Julian Slade
Music by Julian Slade and H. Fraser-Simson
Lyrics by AA Milne

Directed by Martin Milnes
Musical Direction by James Church
Choreography by Lee Greenaway
Associate Direction by Brendan Matthew
Designed by Susie Caulcutt
Produced by The New Actors Company

Martin directed the London premiere of Now We Are Sixty at The King's Head Theatre in September 2013.

SYNOPSIS

AA Milne achieved immortal worldwide fame and fortune when he created the character of 'Winnie-The-Pooh' in stories written for his infant son, Christopher Robin.

Yet the acclaim of those "four slim volumes" eclipsed the main legacy of the man who wrote plays, poetry and novels which delighted readers long before he started writing for children ... a fact that haunted the man whose humour and wit enchanted generations, but hid experiences of a much darker nature.

Brandreth and Slade's affectionate tribute to AA Milne combines high farce with nostalgia and drama in a theatrical production which celebrates the genius behind an extremely private man in a public spotlight.

CAST (In order of appearance)

Alan Alexander Milne Andrew C Wadsworth
Daphne Charlotte Page
John Russell Grant
Ken Philip Lee
Celia Meghan Rayner
Thomas James Bentham
Christopher Robin Steffan Wayne

REVIEWS

THE LADY (Steve Barfield)
This rare revival and London premiere of this 'play with music' about the life of A.A.Milne, the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, has so much going for it that I was rather surprised the run was so short. Milne wrote a book of poems called Now We Are Six which is alluded to in the title. I only hope it is revived again, preferably with the same cast and goes on to tour, as it is something of a lost gem of British musicals ...

Andrew C. Wadsworth's Milne is at once a dignified, charming and troubled figure - in part because he feels that his entire writing career has been overshadowed by the success of 'Winnie' and is resentful that these four books define him forever, in part because of the difficulties of World War One and the society he lives in ...

Russell Grant's version of a soliloquy from Hamlet reminded me of Eric Morecambe and almost brought the house down, while Meghan Rayner's lisping Celia was wonderfully silly and Charlotte Page showed her range, creating a sexy sophisticate with an acid sense of humour ...

Martin Milnes' direction was crisp and manages successfully to build a fast-paced sense of momentum ...

Bearing in mind the importance of A.A. Milne as a kind of national cultural monument to childhood, I'm surprised this alluring piece hasn't been revived previously and it would make a perfect piece at literary festivals during the season, a light-hearted musical that still sends the audience home thinking.

UK THEATRE NET (Clare Brotherwood)
When an Olivier Award nominee, a classically trained singer and dancing astrologer Russell Grant lined up on stage to sing 'The World Song For Girl Guides', I did wonder what we were in for. At that point it would have been possible to dismiss this 'play with songs' as a bit of stuff and nonsense, especially as its subject AA Milne's early work rivalled anything Edward Lear could have produced ...

But 'Now We Are Sixty' is so much more than that. Written by the industrious Gyles Brandreth with music by Julian Slade, Milne's story is told through an interview with a reporter (James Bentham, whose quivering singing voice reminded me of Noel Coward), which reveals that there was far more to him than his poems about his son Christopher Robin and his 'four slim volumes' of Winnie-the-Pooh ...

Bringing the production together is Andrew C Wadsworth, who goes about his role as Milne with a dignified authority, showing us in no uncertain terms that this had been a private man who had a dark side, didn't like children and was resented by his son ...

Russell's soliloquy from Hamlet ... is a hoot. I also like Meghan Rayner's lisping Celia, and Philip Lee's portrayal of a character who only seems to gamble, drink and play billiards, while Charlotte Page manages to be sophisticated and wickedly humorous at the same time, and in an array of voices.

As an added highlight, 10-year-old Steffan Wayne makes his professional debut as Christopher Robin, providing some of several moving scenes.

Wrapped up in a highly entertaining package by director Martin Milnes, with lively accompaniment from musical director James Church, Now We Are Sixty is certainly recommended for those who appreciate something different.

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