Saturday, July 13

EDGAS: The Gondoliers – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Some who might expect a Gilbert and Sullivan Opera to be about as exciting as watching paint dry, might well be persuaded otherwise, as I was, by this visual and musical treat, served up with exuberant brilliance by a company who clearly adore their craft. Undoubtedly one of G&S’s most joyful and brightest of light operas, The Gondoliers is crammed full with catchy toe-tapping songs, colourful characters and a farcical storyline which, to its credit, never takes itself too seriously.

The titular boat-pushing Palmieri brothers, played with carefree boyishness by Theo Rankine-Fourdraine and Sebastian Davidson have it all going for them. In the Piazzetta of Venice, the peasant girls are throwing themselves at the peerless pair. Alas the odds are not good, there are four and twenty maidens but only two gondoliers. When the brothers are blindfolded to choose a bride, they profess that they are not fussy, but nevertheless cheat a little to make sure they get the girls that they want. So far, so straightforward!

However, when the Duke of Plaza Toro arrives from Spain with his daughter, wife and servant, things begin to get complicated. His daughter, you see, was married at a very young age to the heir of the throne of Baritaria, who just happens to be one of the Palmieri brothers. But only one person knows which one?

Suddenly two husbands, who are now both kings-in-waiting, appear to have three wives. Unfortunately, as one of the brides exclaims, ‘One cannot marry a vulgar fraction!’

This is a comic opera delivered in a hilarious deadpan style, which also subtly satirises class distinction and cronyism, which allows it to operate on several levels and appeal to a wide audience. Not surprisingly, it also sounds absolutely fantastic with a plethora of fantastic singing voices and a live orchestra under the assured baton of David Lyle, coupled with the lively direction of Alan Borthwick bringing all of the loose ends to a perfectly paced conclusion.

It is perhaps unfair to pick a favourite among such a dedicated and talented cast, but I have to mention two; Ian Lawson is an absolute hoot as the Duke, in what is his fourth and, he assures us, definitely final outing in the role! Lawson plays the Duke with such a humour and a rubber-faced energy, vitality and verbal dexterity. A consummate thespian turned Olympian almost as he sprints and hurdles his way around the speed-dialled tongue-twisting lyrics which optimise the genre. Special mention also to Angelique Celine in the role of bride Tessa whose exquisite voice rang out like a bell, above all others, reminiscent of the innocent and pure vocals of a young Judy Garland.    

A night of joy, tinged perhaps with some sadness in the cast as the curtain is brought down for the final time on the partnership of Edinburgh directing and musical royalty, Alan Borthwick and David Lyle for EDGAS in this their celebratory Centenary year. Alan is however, delighted to be taking this production to the 2024 Festival, where I expect, from this evidence, it will do very well indeed.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 8th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.