Buxton Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Fringe:Australians deliver an impressive Edwardian musical

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan Festival Fringe, Lionel Monkton, The Arcadians: Soloists and Chorus of Victorian Opera (Australia), Paxton Theatre, The Pavilion, Buxton. 13.8.2011 (RJW)

Vanessa Petrie … Chrysaea
Michael Try … Strephon
Andrew McGrail … Astophel
David Angelico … Damoetas
Naomi Absalom … Daphne
Nicola Wortley … Amaryllis
Catherine Pendelich… Sombra
Ron Pidcock… Father Time
Simon Cooper James Smith/Simplicitas
Anna Castle … Mrs Smith
Brett O’Meara … Bobbie
Robert Latham Jack Meadows
Amy Spruce … Eileen Cavanagh
Robyn Pidcock … Lady Barclay
Darren Rosenfeld Percy Marsh
Ron Pidcock … Peter Doody
Vincent Daniels … Sir George

Musical Direction by David Russell Hulme
Directed by Robert Ray

We rarely get an opportunity to see this 1909 musical that held a respectable West End run of over 800 performances when premiered at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London. To have an Australian company appear, giving two performances alongside their mainstream G & S production of The Yeomen of the Guard, both complete with costumes and scenery, to such a good standard was remarkable. For both productions, they were supported by an excellent eleven strong orchestra.

A favourite of amateur operatic societies up to the 1950s, this Edwardian musical has only occasionally been seen in the late 20th century, so how well does the musical hold up? The production mostly followed the Chappell vocal score and French’s libretto (1945). The addition of fresh interpolated numbers, ‘Moonstruck’, ‘Fickle Fortune’ and ‘Oh, do step the Two step’ were welcome and fit in well even if the ‘Two step’ was accompanied to Charleston choreography that came in 14 years later. The book is fast flowing in Act 1 and the plot only meanders somewhat in Act 2. The music is bright and colourful, particularly in the concerted numbers. Some of the ballads echo the Music Hall tradition yet when coupled with their amusing lyrics sit nicely in the score.

From the beginning of Victoria Opera’s production there were interesting moments. A slide show accompanied the overture with a kaleidoscope of colourful early 19th century advertisements to indicate the social habits of the time. This was very appealing. An atmospheric, well-choreographed rustic opening to Act 1 followed, which is reminiscent of the opening for Iolanthe. The chorus of 14 was strong and sang well in the opening, ‘Arcadians are We’ and later numbers. Outstanding was their contribution to the Races scene of Act 2 and Act 3’s Café Arcadia where their sumptuous costumes and moves were stunning.

Of the soloists, all had considerable strengths both in singing and their acting. The lovely quartet was delightful and displayed a good balance between the voices. Sombra and Eileen’s contribution throughout was delightful with the hit songs of the show ‘The Pipes of Pan’ and ‘The Girl with a Brogue’ winning approval. James (Simplicitas), Jack and Peter provided good characters in their interaction with the rest of the company (and audience), displaying energetic singing and providing believable characters. Especial mention should be made of Sir George, who stepped in as an English stranger to the company, to play this part with gusto after the original cast member became ill.

The production had many fine features: the dance routines and general staging was of a high order and the costumes of Act 3 were striking. Black flowered ballgowns on a pale pink background for the women, and Arcady style floral waistcoats with rose woven coronets for the men provided an attractive picture to the Café Arcadia scene.

Contributions of musicals based on the Gilbert & Sullivan style, as Monckton/Talbot and his satellites undoubtedly were, are pertinent to the success of the Festival. Judging by the outstanding quality seen this year, equally large audiences will be encouraged to attend the next in the hope of seeing some more ‘additions’.

Raymond J Walker