For too long Gilbert and Sullivan’s Victorian operas were viewed as an outdated combination of nonsense and sentimentality, beloved by public schoolboys and amateur dramatic societies.
Fortunately, new productions have breathed new life into what can remain bitingly satirical musical theatre with sharp political and social observations that remain surprisingly relevant. They are also, of course, extremely witty.
Here director Martin Lloyd-Evans and his designer Jamie Vartan plays the show for all the considerable laughs it can muster, allowing the sending-up of English social values to flow directly from the lyrics without need for updating, as is often the case.
The comedy may now be seen as slapstick but no more so than the ‘revolutionary’ humour of that other English Middle Class phenomenon – Monty Python. Replace dancing lumberjacks or camp soldiers on parade with prancing policemen and soft-hearted pirates and you get the picture.
The cast for this collaboration between Scottish Opera and The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company revelled in ridiculous but always loveable characters, whether that was the pompous Major General, with his bevy of daughters needing husbands or the Pirate King with his sailors needing wives, both of whom have glorious songs that are stalwarts of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire. The two roles were splendidly taken by Richard Stuart and Steven Page. Stuart slickly ran through the tongue twisting patter song, Modern Major General, with aplomb.
The daft plot was based around Frederic being accidentally apprenticed by his maid Ruth to pirates rather than a pilot, and once indentured he was, to use the operetta’s sub title,The Slave of Duty. Frederic was sung and acted with the right degree of naivety and Englishness by the light tenor Sam Furness who was perfectly paired with the Major General’s most feisty daughter Mabel, whose coloratura demands were scaled with flair by Rebecca Bottone.
Rosie Aldridge made a daft but delightful Ruth, who also had romantic intentions on her much younger charge.
The biggest laughs, however, were provided by the Sergeant of Police – Graeme Broadbent whose natural comic flair was more than assisted by his gyrating long legs.
Musically, we were taken on a sparkling Sullivan seaside rollercoaster ride on this warm summer’s evening by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and the fine chorus.