Iolanthe – February 2012

7/10

By Gilbert and Sullivan

Directed by Peter Mulloy

Carla Rosa Company

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Monday 13th February 2012

This was definitely a game of two halves; the first half was a bit dull, and even a G&S fan like me was nodding off from time, while the second half opened well with the song from Private Willis and the contributions of the Earls of Mountararat and Tolloller, and it felt a lot livelier after that. I enjoyed the performance overall, though I found the Queen of the Fairies and the Lord Chamberlain were weaker than the rest of the cast; we couldn’t make out their lyrics so well, and they didn’t sustain the energy during their sections. The nightmare song isn’t my favourite patter song anyway, and this wasn’t the best version I’ve heard by a long way.

The set was fairly simple. Two flats of trees stood on either side of the stage to create the entrances, and a backdrop behind had an arch of flowers and greenery over a cobweb, through which the small orchestra could be seen. The costumes were again based on Victorian designs, so the fairies were pretty and the peers were in formal robes, as was the Lord Chancellor. The Queen of the Fairies had a black outfit with extra sleeves, as for a spider, Strephon was in a fairly bland shepherd’s outfit and Phyllis had a nice pink shepherdess dress.

That was the first half. For the second half the backdrop had changed to the Houses of Parliament, and a sentry box stood on the left hand side of the stage. The orchestra was still visible through the screen, but without the large hole they’d had in the first half, the conductor had a long journey to get to the front to take his bows at the end. The costumes were largely the same; the fairies wore sashes with ‘Strephon’ on them, while Strephon and Phyllis were much better dressed. Sergeant Willis was splendid, as usual, in an impressive Guards uniform – I fully understand his attraction for the Queen of the Fairies. Incidentally, she was dressed as Queen Victoria for this half; a nice touch.

Despite the weaker aspects of the production, it was well worth the visit for the second half alone, and it’s always good to see a company prepared to do a Savoy opera in the traditional manner.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Pirates Of Penzance – September 2009

10/10

By Gilbert and Sullivan

Directed by ??

Company: Carla Rosa

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Wednesday 16th September 2009

Let’s face it, any G&S is 10/10 as far as I’m concerned, and it would have to be a pretty naff production to get a lower rating. Today’s Pirates wasn’t as good as last year’s Mikado but I still had a wonderful time, sniffling from the get-go and loving every minute.

During the latter part of the overture, and behind the see-through curtain with the picture of a skull and crossed pistol and truncheon, we saw the Major-General sitting in the cove on a deckchair. Then they raised a sheet (dark green?) to represent the sea. A cut-out pirate ship sailed across from right to left (good laugh) and then we saw the Major-General doing his calisthenics before popping in for a swim (more laughs). The pirate ship appeared again, giving him a fright (even more laughs) and when the sea sheet was lowered he was back on the beach to grab his things and head off before the pirates landed, which they did shortly afterwards. The prow of their ship appeared on the left of the stage, with Ruth acting as the figurehead, and then we were into the opening song.

There were good reactions from the chorus throughout. The Major General made a chuckle out of “e-e-e-e-e” in the orphan song. They added a governess, tea stand and changing hut when the girls arrived. Karen Dunbar was good as the head police(wo)man, giving the audience a bit of geeing up. I felt the stage was a bit cramped, even for the reduced numbers on this tour, and as I couldn’t hear the words so clearly this time I found myself thinking we might see it again at Chichester, opportunity permitting, to see what sort of difference the more open stage made.  (Any excuse.) [Didn’t manage to fit it in, sadly]

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Mikado – November 2008

8/10

By Gilbert and Sullivan

Directed by Peter Mulloy

Carla Rosa Company

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Saturday 22nd November 2008

I’m keener on G&S than Steve, but even so he enjoyed himself almost as much as I did tonight. This was a splendid production, and it was such a joy to hear every word clearly, both spoken and sung.

The set design and costumes were from the original production, as far as could be determined – the director had worked on Topsy-Turvy, the film about G&S doing The Mikado over a century ago. They worked well for me; they were very colourful, and set the scene beautifully. There was a covered bridge at the back, and a painted backdrop with cherry blossom and some tree trunks, but otherwise the stage was pretty bare, although they did bring on the occasional stool. The patter songs had been cleverly updated, so the “little list” included people using mobile phones during the show, and bankers with obscene bonuses and the like. The “punishments” were now applied to a fresh range of people; I think the judges in Strictly Come Dancing came in for some stick, but I don’t remember all the details.

The performances were very good, and not just in the diction department. Nichola McAuliffe made a very good Katisha, with lots of variation in her expression, and a nice line in eyeing up any good looking young man who happened to be in the vicinity. Her bloodthirstiness was very evident; she stopped reading the fatal scroll to listen to the blow-by-blow account of the execution. I found her songs in the first half quite moving, as she really does express her sense of loss very well, but she was also good in the funny bits too. When the Mikado is getting the chorus to sing along to his litany of horrible punishments, she’s been offering him sake instead, but even she has to join in at the end.

Sylvester McCoy was very entertaining as the Mikado himself. Dressed in a preposterous costume, with a high-rise hat, he made the most of his time on stage to give us every conceivable comic grimace and gesture that he could (and he knows quite a few). He played with his tassel, he used his fan to good effect, and the songs also worked well. He found the name of the town, Titipu, totally hilarious (titty-pooh), and there were one or two other smutty bits I don’t remember seeing before, but they worked well for me tonight.

Gareth Jones as Pooh-Bah was suitably grave and haughty, with a hand ever ready for the pecuniary insult. Ko-Ko used a bit of string to get back one of the purses he handed over, and that was good fun. Pooh-Bah’s description of the decapitated head bowing to him was wonderfully ludicrous. Michael Kerry as Pish-Tush was very good. He was present during the glee See how the fates their gifts allot, and stood in very nicely for ‘B’. Ivan Shape as Nanki-Poo was fine, particularly in his opening number, when he had to win over the Titipu locals with his songs. He was well matched with Gillian Ramm as Yum-Yum, who has a lovely voice, and carried off the artless vanity of the part to perfection. Victoria Ward played Pitti-Sing, and did another fine job, with some fun interplay between her and Pish-Tush during the madrigal Brightly dawns our wedding day. I always feel sorry for Peep-Bo, who has so little to do despite being one of the three little maids.

The individual performance of the night, just shading the others, was Fenton Gray as Ko-Ko. He was superb, with lots of business that added to the fun. He did the patter song extremely well, and he was always a welcome presence on the stage. Even so, my enjoyment was down to the total impact of all these performances, and I was so happy to see a good G&S production again. I hope they’ll do some more.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me