A remarkable feature of the Cornish village of Rederring is that it possesses a corps of professional bridesmaids, whose services are much underused of late. They suggest to Dame Hannah that she might marry, but Hannah, the victim of an unhappy girlish romance, is pledged to eternal spinsterhood. She had fallen in love with a young man who courted her under an assumed name but who, on their wedding day, she discovered to be no other than Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad Baronets of Ruddigore (and the uncle of the current baronet), on whom there is a strange curse. Madly as she loved him she left him there and then. Dame Hannah tells the chorus about the legend – the first Baronet was a witch-hunter, and while being burned at the stake, one of his victims vowed that he and all his male heirs must commit at least one crime a day or perish in agony.
Rose Maybud arrives. Rose is a foundling. She was discovered on the steps of the workhouse with a book of etiquette tucked into the basket. She has kept this book ever since and lives by its instructions. She is fond of a young farmer, Robin Oakapple (who is in reality Ruthven Murgatroyd. In dread of the terrible curse, he fled from home, while his younger brother, Despard, believing him to be dead, succeeded to the family title and the curse). Robin is greatly attracted to Rose, but he is too shy to tell her that he loves her.
A stir in the village heralds the arrival of Richard Dauntless, a sailor, on leave. Robin enlists his services to propose to Rose on his behalf. In doing so, however, Richard falls in love with Rose himself, proposes on his own account and is accepted. But when Rose learns the true state of affairs she transfers her affections to the shy and modest Robin, and Richard in revenge reveals the identity of Robin to Sir Despard Murgatroyd; in consequence Robin has to re-assume his family title with its terrible curse. Sir Despard, now free, proposes to Mad Margaret, a poor, crazed creature whose brain has been turned by his previous heartless conduct; while Rose, in horror of the dreadful curse, once more bestows her affections on Richard.
In the picture-gallery of Castle Ruddigore hang portraits of the baronets from Sir Rupert, the witch-hunter, to Sir Roderic, the most recent. Robin is now in residence with his faithful servant, old Adam Goodheart. They are discussing what the crime of today is to be. Alone before the portraits of his ancestors, Robin confides to them his detestation of the curse and begs to be released from it. His ghostly ancestors come down from their frames, making it clear to Robin that their patience is running thin with his pathetic attempts at crime. He is ordered for his next crime to carry off a lady, and after Robin has promised to be obedient in the future, the ancestors change back into pictures. Adam sets off to capture a lady from the village.
Robin receives a visit from his brother Despard and Mad Margaret, who are now married and devoted to good works.. Despard points out to Robin that he must realize that he is morally responsible for all crimes committed during Despard's occupation of his place, and Robin is more than ever determined to find some means of freeing himself from the conditions of this dreadful curse.
Old Adam returns to Ruddigore Castle having abducted Dame Hannah. She is in a rage at the treatment she has received. Robin in alarm calls to his uncle Roderic for help, and once again he descends from his picture-frame. He denounces Robin for carrying off the lady who was once engaged to him. Seeing their happiness in their reunion, Robin has a brilliant idea. He puts it to Sir Roderic that a Baronet of Ruddigore can only die by refusing to commit a crime and that is tantamount to suicide. But suicide itself is a crime [or it was when the operetta was originally written]. They ought therefore never to have died at all. Consequently they are all alive. It is obviously impossible to contradict this sound logic and there are finally plenty of weddings for the Bridesmaids to attend.
Dame Hannah – Anne-Marie Owens
Robin Oakapple – Grant Doyle
Old Adam – Richard Angas
Richard Dauntless – Hal Cazalet
Mad Margaret – Heather Shipp
Sir Despard – Richard Burkhard
Sir Roderic – Steven Page
Words – W. S. Gilbert
Music – Sir Arthur Sullivan
Director – Jo Davies
Set – Richard Hudson
Costumes – Gabrielle Dalton
Lighting – Anna Watson