Posts Tagged ‘Gilbert & Sullivan’

Well I’m pleased to report that the Union Theatre’s all-male Gilbert & Sullivan initiative still has legs. This is the fifth and it’s very well staged & performed and above all huge fun.

This was an early G&S, 135 years old, now but amongst the most popular of the ten or so still in the repertoire (there were c.15). It’s a navy setting for a satire on class and an illustration of how you could climb to the top of government without an iota of talent (nothing changes). Convention requires the captain’s daughter to marry the obsequious head of the navy rather than sailor Ralph who she loves. In true Shakespearean fashion, nothing is what it seems and it all ends happily (for some).

What struck me most about this production was the combined inventiveness of Sasha Regan’s staging, Lizzi Gee’s choreography and Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design. The action takes place aboard ship and the sailor’s quarters are created with a few metal bunks and the ship’s deck with a rope. The boys become girls with lifejackets transforming into costumes, a net used as a shawl and a shirt collar a headdress. The space is used brilliantly, with characters popping up all over the place (I jumped as one started singing behind me!).

The musical standards, under MD Chris Mundy on the piano, are as ever high, with diction particularly clear (important, given the story is told almost entirely in songs, which themselves contain so much wit) and the switches from low to high registers virtually seamless. This is a new crop of G&S boys and impressive they are too, with a handful of professional and London debuts.

The Union may have peaked with Patience, but this is fresh and clever and fully justifies the continuation of the five year project.

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The Landor Theatre continues its roll with this revival of the American updating of one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most poplar operettas. It’s a pretty bonkers idea really, but in this production it works, largely because the stage is teeming with talent, energy and enthusiasm that just sweeps you away.

The only previous production I’ve seen was the Watermill actor-musician touring version at Kingston three years ago – I blogged at the time that I found it pointless and it left me cold (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/hot-mikado) so Robert McWhir’s production has really turned me around. He’s staged it as a 30’s(ish) US radio show, though in the second half this is more in the background. The story is intact, it’s still set in Japan, but the dialogue is modern and the music is adapted to a range of contemporary styles like swing and be-bop.

Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography makes good use of the small space and Richard Lambert’s lighting turns a simple design into something elegant and period perfect. The musical standards are what make this production shine, though. Michael Webborn has a trio rather than a big band but they know how to swing. There are some excellent vocals in both choruses and solos. Mark Daley and Victoria Farley are lovely as romantic leads Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, Nathanial Morrison is an excellent Poo-Bah (chief high everything) and Ian Mowatt provided much of the comedy as Ko-Ko the hapless executioner. Piers Bate, who impressed me as Leo Bloom at Arts Ed earlier in the year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/1012/01/30/the-producers) stood out in the smaller roles. It is an exceptional ensemble who sing and dance their hearts out.

You’re unlikely to see a better production and you have two more weeks to find out why!

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More colourful than a river pageant and a whole lot more tuneful than a jubilee concert, if I were celebrating the jubilee, this 110 year-old musical / operetta would be my personal highlight. Apparently, at the time of the present queen’s coronation there were 500 productions around the UK! It’s so good, its hard to understand quite why it isn’t produced more often.

The stories of composer Sir Edward German and librettist Basil Hood are linked to Gilbert & Sullivan, to whom the show owes much in style. Hood wrote an operetta with Sullivan after Gilbert moved on and German completed an unfinished operetta with Gilbert after Sullivan’s death. Though neither German nor Hood achieved the fame of Gilbert & Sullivan, based on this show they clearly could have.

Set in the times of the earlier Queen Elizabeth, with the Queen a character (and a silent cameo from Elizabeth II at the curtain call!) the show takes place during a May Day festival where most of the male characters are besotted with the May Queen and everyone is convinced Jill-All-Alone is a witch. Somehow one of Queen Elizabeth’s  ladies in waiting and Sir Walter Raleigh, in love with one another but concealing  it from the Queen as she rather fancies him, turn up (this is musical theatre, after all), as does the Earl of Essex, who uses the opportunity presented by a lost letter to win the Queen for himself. It’s a simple, silly tale, but it provides a good showcase for much fun and some lovely music with very witty lyrics.

Played on the set of the Finborough’s other show with some simple painted backdrops and a handful of props, the design effort focuses on some excellent costumes (and particularly good footwear!) by Sophia Anastasiou. Benjamin Cox heroically plays the entire score on an electric piano and the musical standards are outstanding. I was particularly impressed by Michael Riseley as Raleigh, Nichola Jolley as Jill-All-Alone and Gemma Sandzer as lady-in-waiting Bessie Throgmorton. The comic honours belong to Daniel Crane, whose Walter Wilkins, actor in Shakespeare’s company, was a delight. The ensemble was superb and the choruses were terrific. Alex Sutton’s staging, with 18 actors in the tiny Finborough space, was excellent.

Like Gay’s The Word just a few months ago, this is another lost gem which deserves a much much longer run – one you’ll have to wait for as the present run is now over. Sorry!


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It’s beginning to look like the Union Theatre’s all-male Gilbert & Sullivan’s are going to become as permanent a feature as Propeller’s all-male Shakespeare’s. This one is the fourth and the best!

The material itself is even more suited to the concept than it’s predecessors The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance and Iolanthe. A satire on 19th century aestheticism featuring the rivalry between Grosvenor and Bunthorne for the heart of milkmaid Patience, whilst  a bunch of infatuated Lady’s and maiden’s swoon, pout and sigh, ignoring the attentions of a bunch of dragoons seeking to court and marry them!

Stiofan O’Doherty and Dominic Brewer are perfect as the vain effete aesthetes wrapped up in a world of poetry and beauty. Edward Charles Bernstone is a delight as (s)he moves back and forth between her two suitors. The dragoons are cartoon soldiers, clumsy & naive but lovable, in their tweed jackets, bowler hats, black boots and big belts. The Lady’s Jane, Angela, Saphir and Ella are all brilliantly played by Sean Quigley, James Lacey, Mark Gillon and Matthew Marwick, each a different personality, and the maidens (some doubling up as dragoons) glide along the stage in flower print frocks and cardies, brilliantly choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The musical standards are extraordinary (how do you find that many men who can sing that high?!) and the performances beyond charming. Kingsley Hall’s design is inspired. Even MD Richard Bates, who plays the whole score heroically on a solo piano, dons a frock! I smiled from beginning to end of this faultless production by Sasha Regan – and I’m not even a G&S fan! 

If you like musical theatre and you don’t like this, you’ll need therapy. GO!

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You might think the all-male Gilbert & Sullivan idea might run out of steam after a wonderful Mikado and terrific Pirate of Penzance, but no they’ve come up with another treat with Iolanthe.

In truth, the starting point – book, lyrics and music – aren’t as good, though the silly scenario – fairies meet peers! – thoroughly suits the concept and the frequent references to Tories and Liberals, though not directly referencing coalition, added a delicious contemporary twist. Stewart Charlesworth’s low-budget design ideas are superb – the fairies are dressed in assorted underwear with home-made wings and individual touches like shuttlecocks in the hair and the peers are in dressing gowns with assorted headgear and individual touches like ties. Each group seems to move as if a pack of cute animals sticking together in Mark Smith’s excellent choreography.

I’m not going to single out individual performances as this really is an ensemble piece. Quite how you find 16 men who can sing both falsetto and tenor / baritone is beyond me, but suffice to say the standard of singing is outstanding, five of them ‘with form’ in one or both of the previous two all-male G&S’s. Chris Mundy heroically plays the entire score on an upright piano, adding to the thrown together feel of the whole production.

I’m not sure I got the  point of the business with torches during the overture, it is a bit slow to get going & the first half is a bit long and I felt the campness was pushed just a little too far, but it’s still an irresistible cocktail and a whole lot of fun. Another triumph for director Sasha Regan and another feather in the Union’s now feather-heavy cap!

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