The Sorcerer

Mar 31 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆    Loved-up

Pleasance Theatre: Tue 27 – Sat 31 March 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin.

Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group go back to the Sixties for their take on The Sorcerer, Gilbert and Sullivan’s tale of love potions and universal love.

The result is a production which is certainly fun and has some properly immense stand-out moments. Yet is not as frothy as it would like to be, thanks to the occasionally plodding tempo and a design scheme which doesn’t nail its intended decade as it might.

Olivia Wollaston with Tilly Botsford. Pic: Erica Belton

The plot is a parody of purple-prosed romance. Alexis and Aline are hopelessly in love and about to be married – which will unify two families of ancient stock in an act which his father and her mother both regret not doing.

The billing couple are so sickeningly, self-righteously enamoured of love itself, that they want to impose it upon everyone around them. And right-on Alexis believes that the more divides love can cross – of class, age or wealth – the better it will be for its participants.

Alexis’s idea is to spike the tea at the Vicar’s garden party with a love potion that will make the person who takes if fall in love with the first person their eye falls upon, causing a whole burst of anarchic inappropriate love-matches.

the right side of bumptious

Playing the character of Alex as a trouser role, Tilly Botsford makes him just the right side of bumptious, nailing his youthful arrogance and selfishness, expressed through his beautifully observed antediluvian attitude to Olivia Wollaston’s doe-eyed Aline.

Mark O’Brien, Jess Butcher, Julia Weingaertner, Niamh Higgins, Georgie Maria Rodgers, Livi Wollaston and Tilly Botsford. Pic: Erica Belton

The facilitator of the love philtre is one John Wellington Wells. Originally a magician – the Sorcerer of the title – Wells is re-envisioned by director Nathaniel Forsyth as a musician of the kind looked upon with great dubiety by the straight-up villagers in general, and Aline in particular.

Angus Bhattacharya conjures Wells into being with a real flash of invention and splash of ability. He has the piece’s best known number – a tongue-twisting patter song, My name is John Wellington Wells – which he performs with great vocal alacrity, ensuring that the words are all heard.

There are strong performances, too, from Gordon Home as Alexis’s father Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre and Julia Weingaertner as Aline’s mother, Lady Sangazure.

Their romantic subplot is the cleverest – mocking the uptight stand-offishness of those who are hidebound by social convention and unable to declare their love for each other. It is brilliantly expressed in their duet, Welcome, Joy!, in which each breaks off from a slow mannered aria, as the rest of the cast freeze, to deliver a pattering declaration of their true feelings.

very funny

The result is both very funny and musically great to listen to. Both Home and Weingaertner are easily up to the task and make sure that the number works on all its intended levels.

Gwyn Glasser and Georgie Maria Rodgers. Pic: Erica Belton

There is less praise to be heaped upon Ewan Bruce, who plays Dr Daly, the vicar, who believes himself far too old to be attractive to women – even though teenager Constance is besotted with him and championed in her cause by her own mother, Mrs Partlet.

Bruce tries just that little bit too hard to play “old” and, not aided in any way by his own decidedly youthful looks, does not succeed. His voice is not the most powerful and really both Georgie Maria Rodgers as a delightful Constance and Niamh Higgins as a redoubtable Mrs Partlet should be pulling back in their duets with him. Both have bold operatic voices and there is a real lack of balance.

None of the three are particularly helped in the opening scenes by the conductor Ross Hadden, who needs to get more of a spring in the tempo to the numbers. He is blessed with a band who differentiate the music really well. But they do need to step up another level.

Nathaniel Forsyth’s scheme, setting the whole piece in a west country village in the Sixties, is a sound one in principle. But it needs a lot more attention to detail throughout the production – in particular Ula Kowalewska’s design for the female chorus – a uniform of white shirts and blue jeans – is emphatically not of that era.

There is a lot more that works than doesn’t, however. And if the production sometimes feels like a try-out for a bigger and better defined updating of the original piece, it still works well in its own terms. And it has some talented singers on stage who deliver many joyous musical moments.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
Pleasance Theatre, Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance EH8 9TJ.
Tuesday 27 – Saturday 31 March 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm, matinee: Sat 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:

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