The Gondoliers

May 9 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆      Sparkling

Festival Theatre: Wed 8 – Sat 11 May 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of The Gondoliers has a vitality and melodicism that always catches the eye and ear.

The 1889 work was the last real success of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas and is often regarded as their most straightforwardly upbeat work.

The young heir to the throne of the troubled kingdom of Barataria has been brought up in safety as one as a pair of Venetian gondoliers. Unfortunately, no-one knows which one – which causes problems on the arrival of the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro, who was betrothed to the Prince in infancy. Of course, she is in love with someone else, while the oblivious gondoliers have recently themselves become married to two Venetian women.

Theo Rankine-Fourdraine and Sebastion Davidson and the EDGAS company. Pic EDGAS

While the satire concerning politics and republicanism can still amuse, Gilbert’s preoccupation with the Joint Stock Act is decidedly less accessible to a modern audience. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of fun to be had, especially in a production as full of life – and as carefully thought out – as this one.

In EDGAS’s centenary year, the long-running duo of Artistic Director Alan Borthwick and David Lyle as Musical Director is coming to an end with Borthwick’s decision to retire. There is nothing remotely elegiac about this production, however; instead it is a fitting celebration.

It certainly pulls out all the stops; the chorus and dance in Act II, complete with glitter balls, is – like so much of the production – a riot of colour and music, beautifully judged, excellently choreographed and using the huge chorus to their best advantage.


There are some oddities to the staging of The Gondoliers; it essentially features two separate groups of characters who virtually never overlap on stage, few genuine solos, and an opening number that stretches out to over twenty minutes. Borthwick makes light of all this, using the expanse of the Festival Theatre to great effect. It is particularly noteworthy how he uses the stage, with the songs accompanied by appropriate movement and gesture. There is always something to look at as well as listen to, but it is never gimmicky; rather it all works in harmony.

Lyle’s work as MD is equally praiseworthy; the music is never hurried, and always sharp. The singers are all wonderfully audible, with any potential problems caused by the venue or mic-switching kept to a minimum.

There are some judiciously added (and extremely funny) topical references in a second act that fairly flies by. Perhaps the strain on Gilbert and Sullivan’s partnership by this stage made it difficult for them to suggest cuts to each other’s work, but there is no doubt that the first act could have done with some judicious pruning.

A scene from The Gondoliers. Pic EDGAS

Certainly the story of the gondoliers Marco and Giuseppe choosing their brides seems to take an age. However, the gondoliers themselves are played tunefully and with charm by Theo Rankine-Fourdraine and Sebastion Davidson. Louise Martyn and Angelique Celine impress as their chosen wives Gianetta and Tessa; Martyn has real vocal power and Celine an enviable melodic sense.

Ian Lawson’s portrayal of the Duke is an object lesson in how to play a G and S comic role; relishing the humour without straying over the top, he forms an excellent double act with Fiona Main’s beautifully pitched Duchess, while Gillian Robertson is effectively comic as their daughter.

Simon G. Boothroyd is suitably haughty and forbidding as Don Alhambra the Grand Inquisitor; Peter Cushley is engaging as the Duke’s servant Luiz. Throughout, the quartets and quintets are extremely well balanced, with the patter songs taken at just the right speed to be heard.

discharged with skill

The smaller roles are discharged with skill by Andrew Crawford, Kai Yao, Ross Main, Brian Boardman, Emma Lawson, Annabel Hamid and Leah Kincer-Christie, while Carol Macbeth makes the most of her telling cameo as the foster-mother in the last scene.

The large chorus never make the stage seem crowded, with every one of them adding to the spectacle. Similarly, the large orchestra are exceptionally well marshalled by MD Lyle.

Mike Pendlowski’s lighting is extremely atmospheric, while the sound – by Ian Cunningham of Solus Technical Services – is exemplary. The costumes (from Utopia Costumes of Forfar) and scenery (by Scenery Solutions, Southampton) are about as impressive as could be imagined.

There is the occasional moment – particularly in that first act – that does drag a little, and perhaps the pace could be quicker at times. However, the production remains extremely attractive both visually and musically.

Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes (including one interval).
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson St, EH8 9FT
Wednesday 8 – Saturday 11 May 2024
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinee Saturday 2.30 pm
Details and tickets at: Book here.

Website: /
Facebook: @EdinburghGilbertSullivan
Instagram: @edinburghgilbertsullivan
X: @EdinGnS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Your comments