Thursday 23 November 2006

Yet more G & S

One of the reviews of the new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers at the London Coliseum commented that to be really successful, a production had to have an angle; implying that you could no longer present the operas straight.

This let me to wondering about what makes a successful G&S production in the modern world. Inevitably, size matters and doing the Savoy Operas in a theatre the size of the London Coliseum is not ideal. But it can work.

When I first came to London in the mid 1980's, I saw one of the last revivals of the old ENO production of Patience, a production that had started out life in the Sadlers Wells Theatre before their move to the Coliseum. It was attractively Pre-Raphaelite and thanks to strong performances from a cast that included the incomparable Derrick Hammond Stroud as Bunthorne, it worked pretty well.

But this type of production was disposed of during the Powerhouse era. To be replaced by Jonathan Miller's 1920's dance extravaganza production of The Mikado. The success of this production was based on the sheer entertainment value of the staging. Miller's theatrical brilliance disguised the fact that it was hardly a production of The Mikado at all.

This style of production was a dead-end, it was not the way forward for staging G&S in the Coliseum. This was shown by Ken Russell's appallingly interventionist version of Princess Ida. But the problem wasn't just G&S, this was the period when the Coliseum management seemed to lack confidence in operetta. Their proposed production of La Belle Helene for Leslie Garrett was turned into a radical re-write, which did not really work. That having confidence in the product was the way forward was shown by Scottish Opera who mounted La Belle Helene around the same time, with Anne Howells. The production played the text straight, no messing about and was extremely well received.

This finally seems to have filtered down to the current management at ENO as Martin Duncan's new production seems to play things relatively straight. And hurrah for that. We're going to see it on Friday (tomorrow) so I'll be able to report back. But I rather gather that the old hands (Donald Maxwell, Anne Murray et al) rather show up the youngsters when it comes to putting the show over.

This is the area where time and effort need spending; not on fancy productions but on training in the basics of performing operetta. (But that's another moan)

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