Friday 2 November 2012

Utopia Ltd in Greenwich

Its not Gilbert and Sullivan's best operetta by any chalk, but Utopia Limited does have a certain resonance for today, with its government corruption, scandals, and privatisation. The libretto satirises limited liability companies, a bankrupt company could leave creditors unpaid without any liability on the part of its owners. But being Gilbert, there's a lot more besides, including the British Empire, imperialism and the idea of 'barbaric' nations. It was Gilbert and Sullivan's penultimate collaboration, their first after the infamous row over expenses for The Gondoliers. It is also expensive to mount. But the Centenary Company are performing it at the Greenwich Theatre from 7 to 10 November.

Gilbert's libretto is a tad long and rambling, and lacks the focus of some of his others, which means that Sullivan's music is less than inspired. Also, the piece requires a large principal cast. This means that after performances in 1904/5 it was not professionally revived by D'Oyly Carte until 1975!

The plot involves a Pacific Island paradise being corrupted by the importation of English influence resulting from the English education of the King's daughter. By 'co-incidence'  the year the operetta was produced, Princess Kaiulani from Hawaii (then independent) was being educated at private school in England. Though the memoirs of Anna Leonowens (which inspired The King and I) undoubtedly also influenced Gilbert. His views on the Limited Liability act first surfaced in The Gondoliers.

The piece is being performed in Greenwich by the Centenary Company, an amateur company who mount a production of G&S each year. Their name comes from the fact that they owe their origins in a company gathered to celebrate the centenary of Blackheath Halls.

Further information from the Centenary Company website.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the preview of this production, which I've directed. You're right about the opera's shortcomings, which are a shame because it contains many terrific standalone scenes - it's the way Gilbert strung them together that's the problem. This is why we've pruned a lot of the rambling dialogue and restructured the piece a little (based largely on Gilbert's early drafts) to make a more coherent narrative.

    This isn't an update or a 'reimagining' - we're just trying to show the piece off to its best advantage, away from the circumstances of its original production (worthy of a long article in themselves) which led to a weakening of the initial concept. It's still 98% Gilbert (and I love hearing his bizarrely prophetic satirical barbs get belly laughs from a modern audience, as happened often at yesterday's first night) and 100% Sullivan - and personally I'd say that the latter's on top form for about three-quarters of the score.

    Last night's audience lapped it up - four performances to go, so book now!


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