The Gondoliers

Mar 20 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Sparkly in places

Pleasance Theatre: Tue 17 – Sat 21 March 2015

Soaraway soloists and a sprinkling of modern references add much needed sparkle to Eusog’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers which elsewhere lacks emphasis both on stage and in the pit.

The last of the great D’Oyly Carte operas, The Gondoliers‘ plot involves a young prince from war-torn Barataria, married then whisked away to a foreign land for his own safety to be brought up by a surrogate family as one of their own.

Gondolliers 1

Sean Marinelli and Harry MacGregor. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic \\ AliceBoreas Photography

It is now 20 years later, the king of Barataria has died and the bride’s family have come to collect the prince and install him as king with their daughter as his queen.

Excellent comic stuff, then, when it is discovered that the surrogate family had mixed up the infant prince with his own son. So they have been brought up as twins with no-one knowing how to tell them apart. Except (of course) the infant’s nurse who will turn up at the end of the opera to put everything right.

Eusog lash into this with gusto on stage. Director Thomas Ware has changed the setting from Sullivan’s Venice – with the infant prince looked after by plebeian gondoliers – and transplanting it to an Oxbridge varsity, St Marks, where the Gondoliers are a toffs’ punting and quaffing society intent on bringing about a republic. After the next drink.

It’s a change which fits easily into the mistaken identity element of the plot. And best of all allows the cast to swan around merrily in boaters and bright dresses, for which costume designers Laura Loszak and Kate Brown deserve double mention.

rousing delivery

As the piece opens, the two lads, Marco and Guiseppe, little knowing one of them is a monarch, are just about to get married. They have to, as they are so popular amongst the locals girls that none will marry until they know that Marco and Guiseppe are beyond their reach.

Eusog Gondolliers 2015 Eleanor Crowe and Lydia Carrington. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic \\ AliceBoreas Photography

Eleanor Crowe and Lydia Carrington. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic \\ AliceBoreas Photography

The company’s strengths are immediately obvious, with a solid and rousing delivery from the female chorus and excellent comic timing from Harry MacGregor and Sean Marinelli playing Marco and Guiseppe.

And when the choices are made, Eleanor Crowe as Marco’s betrothed, Gianetta, and Lydia Carrington as Tessa who is to marry Guiseppe both demonstrate strong and soaring voices.

The arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza Toro in search of the prince heralds the arrival of the third gloriously larynxed singer in Ellie Millar as Casilda. The revelation of her betrothal as an infant is a shock as she and the family servant Luiz (Ethan Baird) are deeply in love.

Miller and Baird provide both comic entertainment and a beautifully tragic bit of romance as try find a way round their predicament as Luiz suggest they live in their memories. It is a delightful and typical Sullivan paradox, given a gently tripping melody by Gilbert which plays to the two singers strengths.

There is less comedy to be had in Dominic Lewis’ depiction of the Duke of Plaza Toro who, for some unaccountable reason, he plays as a camp old buffoon. The buffoonery works, but real comic potential in the character lies in his penniless snobbery which gets lost in an old-fashioned performance that would have been more happily framed in a 1970s sitcom.

full justice

With the singing strengths of the female members of the company so obviously in contrast to their male counterparts, it is a relief when Douglas Clark arrives on stage as the Spanish Inquisitor who was responsible for the prince’s removal in the first place.

Ellie Millar with Ethan Baird. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic \\ AliceBoreas Photography

Ellie Millar with Ethan Baird. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic \\ AliceBoreas Photography

Clark has a strong, clear and attractive voice which does full justice to the music as he reveals the mix-up. And he really comes into his own in Act II when the boys are trying to run a monarchy along republican lines, with his observation that when everyone is somebody, then no one is  anybody.

While the Inquisitor’s role and comedy fit well into the updated plot, and the modern dress is something of a relief, other reasons for the plot update are not clear. A mention of Twitter and allusion to modern music are not enough to make a successful updating.

There is a bit of gentle comedy to be had during the overture as the chorus dash on and off stage with picnic hampers and bottles of champagne, but not a lot. There is so much potential political comedy that could be had and isn’t. In fact it needs to be there, as the updating means that all the comedy of class and republicanism in the second act loses its depth.

The company has a new musical director in Steven Segaud, who has good ear but is not at his most emphatic here. He allows the band to meander at times when they really need to get crisp and tight about the music. It doesn’t help that the strings sound unsure of themselves for much of the time. The notes are all there, they just need to sound as if they are meant.

A production with potential which gets its three stars thanks to a quartet of strong singers and some entertaining comic moments, but has plenty of room to improve in many areas.

Running time 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one interval)
The Pleasance Theatre, Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance EH8 9TJ.
Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 March 2015
Evenings: 7.30pm; Saturday matinee: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets:


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