Chasing off a gang that’s attacking a Chinese lady and her grandson is only the prelude to a most unusual evening at His Majesty’s Theater in Melbourne.
The Australian revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore comes complete with the unscripted poisoning of both the actor and understudy for the part of Robin Oaknapple/Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd. Private eye Phryne is immediately enlisted by her friend, company manager Sir Bernard Tarrant, to look into the many tricks being played on cast members. Most unsettling is the apparent manifestation of the ghost of Dorothea Curtis, who, 30 years after playing the role of Rose Maybud, is found dead in her dressing room. Phryne suspects that she too was murdered, but it’s hard to tell because the thespians are often acting offstage. Among the many suspects are Gwilym Evans, a handsome, talented heartbreaker who wanted the part; Tom Deeping, ex-actor turned drunken doorkeeper; aging performers Selwyn Alexander and Charles Sheffield; that minx of a leading lady Leila Esperance; and just about every other member of the company. Phryne, an emancipated, sophisticated woman of 1928, works with Det. Insp. Jack Robinson to solve the case and also gains an exotic lover in Lin Chung, that Chinese lady’s handsome grandson.
No Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is more convoluted than this tale, though it’s still worth reading for the theater lore.