Tag Archives: Gilbert and Sullivan

“Princess Ida” at the Finborough Theatre

Saturday’s matinee at the Finborough Theatre saw Chelsea fans in the bar downstairs mix with operetta buffs coming to see a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida. My fears that football cheers would drown out the music were unfounded – a strong cast of singers was more than a match for the Blues.

Director Phil Willmott scores his first goal with his revision of the piece; trimmed and tidied so well that only a real purist could take offence. Princess Ida is a less popular work from the G & S canon (I’d like to think because of its old fashioned sexism) and not as funny as their best, with the satire resting too firmly in its day, but Willmott makes the work light and snappy. We have more princes trying to marry Ida, yet fewer characters overall and are missing a King. The plot is simpler and sillier.

Focusing more on courtship than courtiers, alongside a beefed up role for Ida’s father, now a guardian, the roles are a delight when they could easily have been boorish. And while I think it’s a shame our heroine doesn’t stay in the women’s university she sets up, an audience in 1884 clearly wasn’t ready for an idea like that. Cheeky changes Willmott concludes with guarantee a smile. And of course the music and lyrics are kept, if reorganised, skillfully adapted for piano by Richard Baker and Nick Barstow – anything else would be a home goal.

Like many musicals on the fringe, miraculously, Princess Ida doesn’t feel small. With a cast of 14 on the tiny stage, Thomas Michael Voss’ choreography is a marvel. Willmott’s revisions make it feel like there are no small parts here, but Bridget Costello and Zac Wancke sound especially sweet in their ballads. For the hat-trick Simon Butteriss has to be singled out as his experience with patter really shows – his deliciously lecherous villain is worth every word. I don’t know the result of the football match, but this Princess Ida got my cheers.

Until 18 April 2015

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Photograph by Scott Rylander

“Ruddigore” at the King’s Head Theatre

A happy birthday to the Charles Court Opera, which celebrates ten years with a cracking production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. I confess to being a fan of G & S and, while this work is not their best, this excellent company glosses over this. And anyway, Ruddigore has enough silliness, with plenty of tongue-tying lyrics and improbable plots, as well as enough sweet tunes, to still sparkle.

This is a standard G & S story of smart maidens and unusual heroes, full of topsy-turvy and pleasing satire. A witch’s curse on the house of Ruddigore means its baron has to commit a crime everyday. No one is happy about the legacy. The heirs try to abscond, fiancées are driven mad and the local village bridesmaids have a tough time celebrating hymen.

Though the production is a faithful one, director John Savournin is suitably strict, so proceedings are snappy. The musical adaption by David Eaton, who performs on the piano, is admirably sprightly. James Perkins’ design brings a nice touch of the pier postcard to proceedings, while silly supernatural antics from the Ruddigore ancestors enhance the levity.

RUDDIGORE Guiltily Mad - Sir Despard (John Savournin) Photo Bill Knight
John Savournin directs and performs

Best of all are the first-class performances on offer. Matthew Kellett and Savournin both sound great as as the brothers who battle over a baronetcy – whether in hiding, committing crimes or repenting misdeeds – and Savournin steals a couple of scenes with great comic panache. Rebecca Moon plays the virginal Rose with a beautiful voice, while as bridesmaids desperate to fulfil their duties, Susanna Buckle and Andrea Tweedale give astounding value, standing in for a large chorus. A cast this strong means fans and newcomers, both to G & S and this work, are guaranteed to leave happy.

Until 14 March 2015

www.kingsheadtheatre.com

Photos by Bill Knight

“H.M.S.Pinafore” at the Union Theatre

Given their success on London’s fringe theatre scene, Sasha Regan’s all male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan are much anticipated. Her latest, H.M.S. Pinafore, would seem a natural selection from the Victorian composer and lyricist’s opus – a story full of camp potential, with plenty of sailors and satire. The production lives up to expectations and also surprises.

Not content to rest on her reputation, Regan adds a sense of melancholy to the usual wit and fun. The cast are deliberately presented as though improvising, and so the production opens up some interesting questions: are we here to watch ‘real’ sailors aboard a ship, prisoners of war trying to alleviate boredom, or possibly children at a boarding school? It’s a brilliantly original twist that will win your heart.

Rough and ready staging becomes a powerful tool. So much is achieved with just ropes and kit boxes. The design from Ryan Dawson-Laight, full of inspired touches, including shirt collars used as millinery, contributes to making this show immediate and involving – bunk beds have never been this much fun. And that’s saying something.

From the heroic sailor Ralph, an appropriately dashing Tom Senior, fighting for his love to his Captain’s daughter Josephine, played by Bex Roberts (a  male  actor, to clarify), the cast sound fantastic. As her father the Captain, Benjamin Vivian-Jones is magnificent, bringing out the laughs and in fine voice. Ciarán O’Driscoll renders buttercup, the “plump and pleasing person” who is the key to the ‘topsy-turvy’ story, both loveable and formidable. Accounting for the highest and the lowest in this magnificent class comedy, Lee Van Geleen impresses with his fantastically powerful voice as the dastardly Dick Deadeye and David McKenchnie gives a superb comic performance as The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B.

The inventive staging by Regan, along with fantastic choreography from Lizzi Gee, is a constant delight. The ensemble show their talent, morphing from exercising studs into the gaggle of “sisters, cousins and aunts” that accompany the Rt.Hon, for comic touches a plenty. Special note has to be given to be given to Richard Russell Edwards as Hebe, who can swoon with the best of them. And finally, underpinning all this is the musical adaptation from Michael England and Chris Mundy, extracting the spirit of the score with an intelligent transformation accommodating all male voices.

Even if you’re a G&S fan of a more traditional persuasion, you’re still going to love Regan’s work. There is a reverence here in the best sense of the word – a genuine enthusiasm and love of the piece that is infectious. This is one of the best shows I’ve seen this year and although it’s only November, and there are plenty of exciting things coming up, I doubt it will be bettered in 2013.

Until 30 November 2013

www.uniontheatre.biz

Written 4 November 2013 for The London Magazine

“Patience” at the Union Theatre

Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas have become much-anticipated events. And rightly so. Regan’s direction breaths life into G&S in a manner that retains respect for the classics she is dealing with. Patience follows the successful formula: presenting a silly story of love amongst poets, with a milk maid and dragoons thrown in, that does justice to Gilbert’s contemporary satire while providing a knowing eye to what a modern audience might make of it all.

Sullivan’s take on satire was to mock everyone indiscriminately – being uniformly sarcastic somehow makes it seem fairer. The primary target in Patience was the Aesthetic movement, and there are plenty of reference to lilies and the like, but Regan effortlessly broadens the focus to pretentiousness and fashion in general. In so doing, she preserves and expands the show’s humour, ensuring that this is a night full of laughter.

The main character, Bunthorne, a sham aesthete who confesses “my medievalism’s affectation, born of a morbid love of admiration”, is played marvellously by Dominic Brewer, who takes lyrics such as these into his appropriately elongated stride. Followed around by a troupe of smitten maidens, played by an ensemble of uniformly admirable young performers, Bunthorne’s heart belongs to Patience, a young girl confused by the fuss everyone makes about love.

Following topsy-turvy logic, Patience decides the best way to make her love a sacrifice, a key element to its being Aesthetic, is to marry someone she dislikes, so she ignores her true love for the narcissistic Adonis Grosvenor. Edward Charles Bernstone gives an immaculate, intelligent performance in the title role, while the startling Stiofàn O’Doherty is perfectly cast as Grosvenor.

As well as followers of fashion, Sullivan has an eye on the establishment with a troop of dragoons, the residuum of all that is noble in British manhood. There are sterling performances here from both Edward Simpson and Matthew James Willis, who bring out the wit in Drew McOnie’s choreography and whose strong voices highlight another reason why Patience is so good.

This is a musical, after all, and the splendidly subtle musical direction from Richard Bates, with additional input from Michael England, is just as much a star of the show. Accompanying the performance on only a piano and allowing plenty of a capella makes the most of the remarkable voices on offer, ensuring the show is something to be heard as well as seen.

Until 10 March 2012

www.uniontheatre.biz

Written 22 February 2012 for The London Magazine

“Iolanthe” at the Union Theatre

Gilbert and Sullivan are a guilty pleasure. Those confessing admiration can face polite confusion or, at worst, a disdain that might suggest S&M is more acceptable than G&S. There have been many attempts to change opinions about Gilbert and Sullivan but none more liberating than Sasha Regan’s work at the Union Theatre. Her new production of Iolanthe continues this campaign – it is joyous, fun and simply unmissable.

Iolanthe is quite as silly as any other G&S. It’s the one about fairies and the House of Lords. With Regan’s trademark all-male cast, you can imagine where this is heading. But Regan is too clever a director to make things crass, no matter how camp they become. With a nod to Narnia, the action takes place at a school and the magic begins when the costume wardrobe is opened.

This isn’t Gilbert and Sullivan forced into the 21st century. Regan’s masterstroke is not to patronise these eminent Victorians. Gilbert’s satire is still razor sharp and Sullivan’s uncanny ability to write a popular tune ageless. Regan brings out the humour and Chris Mundy’s solo piano accompaniment is a superb interpretation of the score.

The real pay off comes not from innuendo but from sincerity. Victorians could be soppy and G&S were no exception. But Regan allows this so that, behind the laughs, this Iolanthe is sweat. With fairies dressed in furs and pearls and lords wearing conker chains of office, you smile all the way through, while the sentiment washes over you. It is a combination that can only be described as sophisticated.

There is a palpable sense of excitement from a talented cast. Christopher Finn takes the title role in his stride and Shaun McCourt deals impeccably with the Lord Chancellor’s tongue-tying lyrics. It is great to see Alan Richardson at the Union once more. His terrific voice is matched by an endearing stage presence. Kris Manuel is unforgettable in the role of the Fairy Queen, while Matthew James Willis’s Harry Potter-inspired Earl, and Raymond Tait as Private Willis, show off their voices particularly well.

This really is an ensemble piece, as the cast all perform in the equally fantastic realms of the supernatural and the political. As both tripping fairies and noble lords they faultlessly do justice to Mark Smith’s witty choreography. Like the whole production, Smith’s work isn’t just delightful – it is bold and interesting. His use of sign language in dance creates a new level of meaning that complements the humour and excitement of the piece. Regan should join her team on stage as they hold their heads up high when the lords all marry and become fairies themselves! Gilbert and Sullivan fans can come out of the closet at last.

www.uniontheatre.biz

Until 11 December 2010

Photo by Ben de Wynter

Written 23 November 2010 for The London Magazine