The most difficult thing about The Gondoliers is the opening number, which is actually about half a dozen numbers that segue into each other – it is more than a quarter of an hour into the show before there’s any spoken dialogue – and includes some quite tricky chorus work. At the first night of every amateur production I’ve seen, that number has been a bit rough round the edges. This one was no exception, but with the initial hurdle cleared, it got better and better and provided the audience with, in Gianetta’s words, “too much happiness”.
One reason the production is so successful is the performances of the two couples around whom the story revolves. The gondoliers of the title, Marco and Giuseppe, complement each other well. Adam Davis (Marco) is, I am told by female acquaintances, strikingly good-looking and he has a pleasing tenor voice; John Rimell (Giuseppe) has a macho swagger about him and a voice ideally suited to light comic numbers such as ‘Rising Early In The Morning’. Equally complementary are Catherine Smith (Tessa), whose singing is outstanding throughout and makes ‘When A Merry Maiden Marries’ one of the highlights of the show, and Sally Ager (Gianetta), who couldn’t make an ungraceful movement on stage if she tried.
They are backed up by a strong team of principals. Mark Ward is excellent as the hen-pecked Duke of Plaza-Toro, and so is Julie Gower as his Duchess, the hen who does the pecking. Susy Davis plays their daughter, Casilda, as a bolshie feminist when with her parents, who melts when with the love of her life, Luiz. Luiz is a thanklessly small part, but Gary Maslen gives a lesson in the discreet use of the body and hands to establish a character. To misquote the Duke of Wellington, I don’t know what Richard Haines as the sinister, hunched Don Alhambra did to the rest of the audience but by God, he frightened me. He has a fine voice, too, as he shows in ‘There Lived A King’.
There are many things to admire in the staging, not least the projection onto the backcloth of changing scenes of Venice and Barataria (fictional, maybe, but it looks jolly nice). The costumes are first-rate, too, but the lighting occasionally jars, especially in potentially the best number in the show, ‘Dance A Cachucha’.
No G&S can be staged these days without the addition of modern references, and director Trevor King’s imaginative touches generally work well, especially the chorus’s hand jive in ‘All Shall Equal Be’, having Marco and Giuseppe as barbers at the beginning of Act 2, and the sunglasses in which the ladies’ chorus arrive in Barataria, as well as mentions of the current political turmoil. However, it is possible to take this too far, and it may not be only G&S purists’ teeth that are set on edge by one or two additions, particularly in Act 2, that take the production perilously close to pantomime.
It is good to see so many men in the chorus and both they and the ladies’ chorus have clearly been well rehearsed by musical director Ieuan Davies, who conducts the very competent orchestra, although the fluorescent green baton is hugely distracting.
As winter draws in, a trip to sunny Venice and Barataria – one assumes Barataria is sunny – is just what is called for, and can be thoroughly recommended on 27 September at 7.30pm or 28 September at 2.30pm or 7.30pm.