Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Buxton


Any musical set during revolutionary events in France inevitably invites comparisons with Les Miserables and at its best The Scarlet Pimpernel stands up well. This is an impressive and rousing production from Present Company which belies the ‘amateur’ tag.

The scale and imagination of the piece is remarkable – with up to 25 singers on stage and a sizeable orchestra in the pit, plus dozens of brilliant costume changes there is always something worthwhile to see and hear throughout the 140 minutes.

At the heart of the show are three fine performances. Rachael Louisa Bray is Marguerite – a distinguished Parisian actress who gives up her career to marry an English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney (David Partridge). The couple move to live in England. Meanwhile events in revolutionary France are taking a violent and bloody turn. Chauvelin (Craig Arme) is answerable to Robespierre when it comes to carrying out revolutionary republican justice.

Sir Percy and his impractical and foppish friends become a rather implausible band dedicated to saving as many as they can from Mademoiselle Guillotin. The Scarlet Pimpernel and his band hide behind their dandyish behaviour – dressing in fine clothes (with plenty of lace and sparkle) is their primary concern. Much fun is had by the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel as they prance around the stage daring anyone to believe that such ninnies could ever be so heroic.

In such a generous team production as this it may seem unfair to highlight any single contributions but director and chorographer Jean Gemmell, musical director and conductor Morris Fisher and wardrobe manager Marion Fisher each help make this a memorable show. The technical team manage the sound and lighting in an unobtrusive manner (which is as it should be) and the set is flexible and well-designed. Everyone associated with the show should feel happy and proud.

Present Company can be seen at Buxton Opera House tonight. They take The Scarlet Pimpernel to Derby Theatre for four performances from 24-26 November – so if you missed it at Buxton check your diaries for then.

By Keith Savage