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Opera Review Uproarious celebration of Rhondda's revolting women

Rhondda Rips It Up!
Riverfront Theatre, Newport/Touring

WELSH National Opera are celebrating the centenary of partial women’s suffrage with this new work by composer Elena Langer and librettist Emma Jenkins, whose focus is Margaret Haig Thomas — Viscountess Rhondda — the activist secretary of the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Her imprisonment for arson and her experience as a passenger on the doomed liner Lusitania is not necessarily a subject for comedy — and this is very much a Gilbert and Sullivan-style light operetta with a flavour of upper-class life at the time of a serious campaign for women’s rights —  but director Caroline Clegg has a deft touch. She's produced a light-hearted comic romp through the early feminist life of the redoubtable viscountess, who's acted and sung with aplomb by Madeleine Shaw.

The deft humour and typical musical-hall slapstick and filthy innuendo is led by soprano superstar Lesley Garrett, superb as the MC. She's mistress of the naughty glance and wink, none more so when singing the risque Harry Roy song My Girl’s Pussy.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments, none more so than when Lady Rhondda hides her explosives under a blackberry bush and attempts to blow up a Newport post box, and there’s a rousing rendition of Ethel Smyth’s suffrage movement anthem The March of the Women during Thomas’s first suffragette march.

Lara Booth's ingenious designs, with a vast suffragette banner at the back of the stage,  encompass suffragette meetings, the House of Commons and the Lusitania in what's an all-woman production onstage and off, with the superb 10-piece band led by conductor Nicola Rose and able support from the WNO Community Chorus. It is well worth watching and the suffragettes would surely have loved it.

Tours Wales and England this month and again in the autumn, details: wno.org.uk

 

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