In the accompanying programme, Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society president Ian Lawson expresses a desire to bring savoy opera to a wider audience, opening performances to primary-aged children at a discounted price to “keep it shining through the 20th century”. And the appeal of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Gondoliers’ is certainly an enduring one. The plot of the musical is played out with Shakespearean twists and turns, romance, humour and farce, which the large cast throw themselves into with gusto.
The play opens in vibrant colour and song on the streets of Venice, a chorus of farm girls swarm on stage in a flurry of ribbons, petticoats and flowers, Kate Duffield’s costumes providing a visual spectacle to suit that of the soaring overture it accompanies, and bringing Gilbert and Sullivan’s fairytale vision of Venice boldly to life. The opening number, ‘List and Learn’ is a strong showcase for the company’s strengths, we see the women swarm around the titular Gondoliers, Marco (Michael McFarlane) and Guiseppe (Geoff Lee), vying for their affections. The opening number showcases Lee and McFarlane’s aptitude for comedy and the strong chorus of voices provides an impressive opening to the show, which never seems to find its balance visually afterwards. The large ensemble seems feeling overcrowded and occasionally cumbersome, while scenes with fewer actors becoming dwarfed by the towering backdrop and sparse set. This contributes to the play feeling a bit clumsy and laboured at times, Gilbert’s sharp, witty libretto sometimes appears a mouthful for the actors, and some of the more intricate moments of comedy are lost.
Having said that, the cast of ‘The Gondoliers’ contains some notable talents. Ian Lawson and Fiona Main in particular stand out as the hapless Duke and Duchess, conveying wearied exasperation with humour and polish in two of the finest performances in the show. But the cast is perhaps even more impressive as a whole. The ensemble contains performers of a range of ages and backgrounds which is refreshing, and whilst the presence of some actors fails to fill the imposing auditorium of the King’s Theatre, what the cast lacks in polish they make up for in enthusiasm for telling this well-loved story to a fresh audience.
All photos credited to the talented Simon Boothroyd.
Alice Bethany Markey
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