TRIAL BY JURY an Operatic Vision by Cynthia Fortitude

St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

22/11/2020 - 22/11/2020

Carterton Events Centre, Wairarapa

28/11/2020 - 28/11/2020

Prince Edward Auditorium, Wanganui Collegiate School, Whanganui

29/11/2020 - 29/11/2020

Te Raukura ki Kāpiti Theatre, Coastlands, 32 Raumati Rd, Raumati

05/12/2020 - 05/12/2020

Globe Theatre, 312 Main St, Palmerston North

06/12/2020 - 06/12/2020

Production Details

Script by W.S. Gilbert, re-created by Helen Moulder and Alison Hodge | Composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan
Director: Alison Hodge | Musical director: Michael Vinten
Pianist: Robyn Jaquiery

Wellington Comic Opera

A new take on an old favourite  

Create a new company, select a beloved light opera, rehearse it under constant threat of Covid-19 lockdowns and then take it on a whirlwind North Island tour.

After many (many!) online rehearsals, the newly formed Light Opera Company of Khandallah, Johnsonville And Western Suburbs (The LOCKJAWS) are finally meeting in person their new director, the great New Zealand diva, Miss Cynthia Fortitude – on the day of their first performance. Half the cast have gone missing… no-one can find the costumes…. and it’s show time! Director Miss Fortitude does her best to rally the troops – compromises will HAVE to be made! 

What follows is a lively rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s shortest opera, with all the songs and all the music but a decidedly modern “look”.

This original take on an old favourite is written and directed by Alison Hodge with musical direction by Michael Vinten and stars Helen Moulder as her alter ego Miss Cynthia Fortitude, the long-suffering director of this eccentric collection of players.

You’ll love the music, you’ll laugh at the antics… and you’ll kick yourself if you miss it.

Moving with the times

“The music is so witty and the words are highly original and very clever – we didn’t want to tamper with that too much,” says stage director Alison Hodge. “But there’s no escaping the fact that this Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is 147 years old.

“We wanted to downplay some of the dated content and old-fashioned attitudes by creating a more contemporary feel and adding a NZ context. Using this well-intentioned but bumbling group of performers adds another layer to the satire.

“It also enabled us to get rid of some of the theatrical trappings that so often overpower the singing in traditional productions of Gilbert and Sullivan.”

Music director Michael Vinten agrees.  “We decided to have just a pianist to accompany the singers,” he says. “Robyn Jacquiery is the perfect choice for this. Her sensitive playing really lets the voices shine and you hear things that are normally buried when there’s an orchestra between the audience and the singers.  It means we can put the audience much closer to the action and make them more like participants than distant viewers.

“We want to make the music and humour of Gilbert and Sullivan work for a modern audience. This format is ideal for that.”

Cynthia Fortitude the lynch-pin

As well as performing in the role of the LOCKJAWS’ new director, Helen Moulder was a key participant in the creation of the story-line. She and Michael have worked together before and so he thought of her immediately when the company was considering what their new approach to Trial by Jury could be. Helen has frequently performed as her alter-ego Cynthia Fortitude and, she says, “Cynthia fits in perfectly with the LOCKJAWS. She is my clown – quite ridiculous, bossy, forgetful, easily distracted and with an over-inflated view of her own talent. I love being Cynthia and I’m having a lovely time playing her again.”

Wellington performances 
St Andrew’s on The Terrace, 22 November, 3.00
Central Baptist Church, 26 November, 12.30 and 7.30

Touring performances 
Carterton: Events Centre, 28 November, 2.00pm
Whanganui: Prince Edward Theatre, 29 November, 5.00pm
Raumati: Te Raukura ki Kāpiti, 5 December, 1.00pm & 4.00pm
Palmerston North: Globe Theatre, 6 December, 2.30pm & 5.00pm

Bookings via

The creative team

Director Alison Hodge has directed for and acted with Pocket Opera, Boutique Opera, Young and Hungry and Summer Shakespeare.

Music Director Michael Vinten has been the Wellington Chorus Master and Associate Conductor for New Zealand Opera since 1991 and has conducted for Wellington City Opera, Hamilton Operatic Society, Hawke’s Bay Opera, Wanganui Opera, and Massey University’s Conservatorium of Music, the New Zealand School of Music, Boutique Opera and Days Bay Opera.

Star performer Helen Moulder has toured her solo and two-person shows throughout New Zealand and Australia. Cynthia Fortitude, a “famous” opera singer, is her favourite comic character.

Cast in order of appearance 
Meredith:  Sheridan Williams
Regan:  Charli Gartrell
Cynthia Fortitude:  Helen Moulder
Deborah:  Stephanie Gartrell
Ted:  Alastair Gustafson
Maureen:  Margaret Mabbett
Marion:  Melody Holmes
Henry:  Andrew Thompson-Davies
Evie:  Gisela de la Villa
Grace:  Kassandra Wang
Maddy:  Antonia Selby
Frank:  Kevin O’Kane
Keith:  Richard Dean
Charles:  David McKenzie
Brian:  Ian Graham
Maggie:  Lesley Graham
Max:  Sam Fisher
Julia:  Sharon Yearsley
Hugo:  Lindsay Groves
Roy:  David Owen
Diana:  Helen Lavington
Oliver:  Quentin Hay

Conducted by Michael Vinten
Accompanied by Robyn Jaquiery

Production Team
Properties:  Jane Allen
Costumes:  Celia Hulbert
Stage Manager:  Lindsay Groves
Producer:  Margaret Mabbett
Producer:  Chris Whelan
Publicity:  Mary Collie-Holmes
Production Manager:  Jean Hulbert
Rehearsal Pianist:  Robyn Jaquiery
Music Director:  Michael Vinten
Director:  Alison Hodge 

Theatre , Musical , Comedy ,

Charming and funny with glorious music

Review by Tim Stevenson 23rd Nov 2020

Are you looking for some diversion in these troubled times? Are you keen to support local enterprise? Does an excursion into a remote – bt not too remote – wold of witty, gentle satire and glorious music sound about right to you?

If you answered, “yes,” to the above, I recommend you check out Wellington Light Opera’s latest production, Trial by Jury – an Operatic Vision by Cynthia Fortitude. You’ll have to be quick about it, though, because the season is brief (click the Production details).

You may be wondering by now whether your reviewer is moonlighting as a publicist. I’m happy to declare that I’m not. If I have any personal interest to declare, it’s a desire to make up for the grumbling mood in which I approached this review.

My reviewing companion drops out at the last moment, then I have an unsatisfactory shopping experience at Thorndon New World. Resentful phrases like “ancient Victorian tat” run through my mind as I slouch up street to St Andrews on The Terrace.

This unpromising mood lasts about 2 minutes into the show. The game-changer is the stage entrance of Cynthia Fortitude, self-proclaimed greatest living soprano of all time and the show’s nominal director.

If you haven’t come across Cynthia Fortitude before, she’s a national theatrical treasure created by seasoned performer Helen Moulder. She is vain, eccentric, bossy, and fixated on keeping opera and her own legend alive. She also manages to be utterly delightful. Her love of music is infectious and her personality overwhelming, which is why she has no trouble recruiting the audience as part of the chorus. Usually your reviewer flees audience participation like the plague, but when Miss Fortitude recruits you, you’re happy to be recruited.

So, what’s the link between Cynthia Fortitude and a work by Gilbert and Sullivan? Well, the premise goes like this: La Fortitude is director of a production of Trial by Jury to be delivered by the Light Opera Company of Khandallah, Johnsonville And Western Suburbs (LOCKJAW); the production has suffered from the COVID experience plus mutiny amongst the cast; the opening performance promises to be a shambles, with costumes and performers missing.

However, our director is resourceful and determined. After some quick last-minute adjustments, the Gilbert and Sullivan manages to power up. Diva Fortitude then leaves the cast to get on with the show, apart from interpolating one of her favourite solos from a completely different opera.

Which brings us to the play within the play, and if you haven’t come across Trial by Jury either, it’s an early Gilbert and Sullivan work poking fun at the British legal system circa 1870. Edwin has reneged on his promise to marry Angelina; now she wants the court to grant her compensation. The action consists of the trial, which is highly irregular and supplemented by comments and other add-ins provided by the judge, jury and interested observers. All of this is conveyed by the usual Savoy combination of lyrical sentimentality, farce, satire and rousing choruses, freighted by Sullivan’s splendid musical versatility.

Gilbert’s slick, slangy lyrics delighted the Victorians and can still amuse today if you can switch off your woke-alert filter for the duration. It helps that Gilbert found Victorian conventions at least as funny as we do (although probably for different reasons). This creates an escape clause for the sensitive viewer; we’re not supposed to take any of it seriously, even when the judge boasts about marrying a rich attorney’s elderly, ugly daughter.

The programme invites us to see Trial by Jury as a commentary on the hypocrisy of authority. Fair enough, but what makes this particular production so attractive for me is the wonderful choral work and the clever, inventive comedy.

Starting with the music: this production is a bountiful musical feast, particularly when there’s ensemble singing to be done. Give the cast an opportunity to deliver a stirring chorus – something which happens a lot – and they do so with polish, gusto and skill. The results are a pleasure to the ear and highly to the credit of musical director Michael Vinten and the singers he has worked with so effectively.

The individual solo performances are a little more variable in quality, with Sharon Yearsley as Angelina and Lindsay Groves as the Usher being my personal favourites. Yearsley not only sings beautifully, she finds an effective balance between lyricism and satire. Lindsay Groves is blessed with a rich bass voice which I enjoy listening to, irrespective of whatever Victorian drollery he is putting across.

The other quality that lifts this production for me is that it is, to put it simply, extremely funny. Part of this is because Gilbert and Sullivan were two exceptionally witty men. However, not all their comic material has survived the passage of time.

Fortunately, Helen Moulder and director Alison Hodge (jointly credited with the script) have between them a sure, sophisticated sense of comedy. I particularly appreciate the way the Cynthia Fortitude material works in with the original script and score to magnify the humorous impact.

Overall, this production doesn’t miss a comic trick, whether it’s faux Victorian moustaches for the jury, the referee’s whistle Fortitude uses to muster the cast, or the relish with which the players deliver their moments of high-camp Victorian melodrama. I wish the programme provided more information, to help me follow the story as it unfolds (and also work out who is playing whom).

I also appreciate the way Hodge choreographs the crowd scenes; she and the cast between them have a happy knack for creating order out of apparent chaos.

Pianist Robyn Jaquiery is a rock on which the whole production rests.

I leave the production humming a Gilbert and Sullivan tune and plotting ways to let readers know what a fine, funny entertainment this is.


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