As if Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas weren’t already bonkers enough, along comes the Charles Court Opera Company to pile on additional splendid craziness. This is a murder mystery tour in G&S song, with myriad references along the journey to many of their well-known, and some not so well-known works, from Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, to Princess Ida and The Sorcerer. Some songs are kept intact, others rewritten to fit the narrative. There are puns both subtle and groan-worthy, clues and red-herrings galore, appropriately melodramatic and over-the-top acting by the three cast members and a slew of great sight gags.
To make this show work though, it needs the attention to detail that G&S always brought to their writing, the superb diction to perform those wordy patter songs, the glorious soaring and pitch-perfect singing of the cast and a solid narrative. Well, maybe not quite so much the last, as the plot of Express G&S is clearly sub-Agatha Christie plus a dash of farce. A French detective (Matthew Kellett emulating a certain Belgian and his “little grey cells”) is travelling by train when a murder is committed on board. Reggie, the conductor (Matthew Siveter), Bridget the trolley-lady (Catrine Kirkman), plus a peer of the realm, an elderly woman, a jester and a young woman are brought along for the ride, to be questioned about the crime by the detective. All claim their innocence of the dastardly crime, of course. It’s so cleverly done, it’s easy to forget that there are just three actors on stage, swapping roles with lightning speed and total credibility. All the songs are sung with gorgeous clarity, with a special “Brava” to Kirkman for her rendition of The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze from the Mikado, a song that is always something of a show-stopper but not always so well performed. And a huge round of applause for the excellent piano accompaniment of David Eaton who keeps the entire show running smoothly and on time.
Jessie Huckin’s set cleverly gives the travelling characters a sense of movement as the benches on casters work as train carriages and dining cars and the cast bounce along on them. The rest of the set is suitably minimalist, a table, a door, a couple of windows.
John Savournin’s direction makes sure that the action is non-stop and the immense energy of the cast keeps the train on its tracks all the way to the terminus. It’s ingenious and witty, all thoroughly over-the-top, immense fun and totally Topsy-Turvy. G&S would have loved it.
Express G&S is at Wilton’s Music Hall until 18th August. Tickets are on sale at:
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 16th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: