The Gondoliers

Mar 9 2016 | By More

★★★★☆   Sugar-coated satire

Kings Theatre: Tue 8 – Sat 13 March 2016
Review by Catriona Graham

Good satire never dies but is endlessly topical, as Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society prove in their production of The Gondoliers at the King’s Theatre this week.

Gilbert’s tale of a foster-child – born to a king, promised to the Duke of Plaza-Toro’s daughter and then abducted in infancy from Spain to Venice to become, by way of mistaken identity, a gondolier – provides much in the way of social attitudes to mock.

Act Two Finale. Photo: Simon Boothroyd

Act Two Finale. Photo: Simon Boothroyd

The republican convictions of the boatmen Marco and Giuseppe do not survive the discovery that one (or other) is this foster-child: the son of the recently deceased King of Barataria and, therefore, now the King himself.

Michael McFarlane (Marco) and Geoff Lee (Giuseppe), quite the lads about town, have complicated matters by marrying the vivacious friends Gianetta and Tessa, who quite fancy the regal lifestyle as well. Annabel Hamid has a lovely rounded voice at Tessa and does When a merry maiden marries full justice. EdGAS first-timer Anna Thomson, however, seems to be straining at her top notes as Gianetta.

Meanwhile, the impoverished Plaza-Toro entourage has arrived in Venice. Fiona Main is in fine form as a rather inebriated – and imperious – Duchess with Ian Lawson her somewhat put-upon and ineffectual husband. Their mission is to introduce their daughter Casilda to her husband (since infancy) the new King of Barataria.

Pity that Casilda has fallen for Luiz, the household suite (or drummer). Sarah Whitty and Chris Cotter are charming lovers, and their duet lamenting their now (as of ten minutes ago, or is it now twenty?) forbidden love is tender as well as entertaining.

a show of ensembles

After the two gondoliers are whisked off to Barataria, to reign as one person, Act 2 starts with the male chorus, in unmistakably 18th century dress and not quite as sharp and together as their female counterparts who began the opera. But they miss the girls, McFarlane singing Take a pair of sparkling eyes with aplomb. Not for long, though, as their wives have arrived, whereupon the cachuca is danced and sung, if a bit sedately for that ‘wildest of dances’.

The happy couples. Photo: Simon Boothroyd

The happy couples. Photo: Simon Boothroyd

It is not long until the foster-mother, sought by Grand Inquisitor Don Alhambra, arrives to sort things out. The lugubrious Don, a foil to the Duke and Duchess and butt of the gondoliers, is ably played by Tom Paton.

This is a show of ensembles, and they are excellent, with the Spanish Plaza-Toros just having the edge over the Venetian foursome in slickness and verve.

Director Alan Borthwick ensures that the action never lags, with lots of by-play, including several lovers’ tiffs and a gag with champagne. Various topical references – including to Downton – have been substituted for Gilbert’s original targets, though some very recent candidates have been missed. The chorus-work is lively and rarely still, flowing fairly naturally around the stage.

In the pit, David Lyle and the orchestra keep up a cracking pace through this sunniest of Sullivan’s scores, but not so we lose the sense of the words in the crisply delivered patter songs. All in all, a most enjoyable example of political satire coated in sugar candy.

Running time 2 hrs 30 mins (including interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 March 2016
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30pm
Tickets and details from

EdGAS website:
EdGAS on Facebook: EdinburghGilbertSullivan


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