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Society Spotlight: MUGSS

I went along to MUGSS’ rehearsal of The Grand Duke to find out more about the society

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Last week I went along to the rehearsal of the University of Manchester Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s (MUGSS) production of The Grand Duke and spoke to Secretary, Dan Magnone, about what they do.

Dan explains exactly what MUGSS is, and why it is unique as the ‘largest’ student theatre society in Manchester. He says: “Every year we put on a large scale production of a Gilbert and Sullivan show in the Opera theatre in the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), with a large and varied cast and our own backstage crew. Our aim is to carry on the tradition of the comic light operas and bring them to a new audience who may not be familiar with these works of musical genius and hilarious comedy. We also aim to give everyone the opportunity to get involved, so we don’t audition for our chorus and anyone can be on stage in any of our productions. We do however audition for the principal roles ensuring that we have a high standard of performance. Many of our soloists aspire to be the next generation of professional singers and musicians.” I was also told that many members go on to have careers on the stage, including a former member of MUGSS who was in the recent film adaptation of Les Misérables. Dan said: “We also have our own crew who build the sets and run the productions and anyone is of course welcome to be involved in this as well.”

Their current performance of The Grand Duke is showing at the end of February. With just under a month to go until the performance, I was intrigued to see how far along the cast and crew were, and I was surprised at how finalised the rehearsals seemed to be. As is the intention of Society Spotlight, I wanted to have a go and join in with some of their rehearsal, thinking it wouldn’t be too difficult to pick up on some of the songs the chorus were singing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Optimistically, I was handed a copy of the music and was all set to chime in but was instantly thrown off guard by the sheer decibels, rapidity and skill of the people who surrounded me. Being unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, I had no idea of the speed of the music, how quickly the words had to be sang, and also how funny it actually was. Needless to say I soon gave up on attempting to join in and just sat back and enjoyed the extraordinary sound of the twenty plus voices singing perfectly in unison and harmony.

I also had a chance to see some of the ‘blocking’ that goes into their rehearsal time. This involves the practice of acting, dancing and stage positioning. Director of The Grand Duke, Joel Fisher, definitely knows what he’s doing here, commanding the group with ease and humour to achieve a high level of performance, whilst still letting the cast have their fun. As I soon came to realise with Gilbert and Sullivan performances, the most important aspect is the element of fun.

If you’d like to get involved with the next Gilbert and Sullivan production, then contact committee@mugss.org or chair@mugss.org. All information can also be found at www.mugss.org. You don’t have to have any previous experience and as Dan says: “We have students from all areas and disciplines and it seems to be an activity which suits everyone. It can also be fun to meet and socialise with people from different subject areas to yourself.”

If you’d like to go and watch The Grand Duke (which I strongly recommend) tickets are on sale at £5 each from the RNCM Box Office which can be found by following a link from the MUGSS website. The show is running from Wednesday 27th February to Saturday 2nd March at the RNCM, at 7.30pm, with an added Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Described by the RNCM as a ‘musical tale of treason, deceit, love, heartbreak and sausage rolls’, it will be a spectacle not to be missed.