EDINBURGH 2017 - BWW Review: GILBERT & SULLIVAN'S IMPROBABLE NEW MUSICAL, theSpace on the Mile
The most successful of the Gilbert & Sullivan Savoy operas, The Mikado, had a rocky creation. Gilbert initially proposed a story about a magic lozenge which would change the characters' thoughts, but Sullivan felt this idea was too similar to their earlier opera, The Sorcerer. Eventually, Gilbert agreed to drop the lozenge element of the plot, and The Mikado became the partnership's longest-running hit.
A mere 132 years later, Gilbert & Sullivan's Improbable New Musical: The Fringe Lozenge receives its premiere, presented here by the Coily Dart Opera Company (a couple of letter changes there).
The typically implausible plot involves two companies going to extreme lengths to secure good reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe with rival productions, one of which is entitled Idle Auntie. Many of the usual Gilbertian elements are included: an abandoned baby, a sense of duty, love across ranks and an implausible, contrived finale. All-new lyrics, set to Sullivan's music, are accompanied by the usual quota of silly dances.
Clearly this production has been devised by Gilbert & Sullivan aficionados, and is a labour of love. It's a small-scale, 50-minute show, with a young cast of four (Elizabeth Fenner, Sofia Aguiar, Eilidh Gibson and Daniel Grooms) plus brief centre-stage appearances by Norman Hockley as Gilbert and Chris Higgins as Sullivan.
The first 10 minutes pass somewhat slowly, but the number of clever G&S references ultimately keep the production afloat. These include the calling of Angelina, mention of the likes of right elbows and 'street performer Jack', and a particularly subtle, effective sequence adapted from The Mikado reminiscent of when Katisha's insistent "he is the son of ..." is continually met with interruption.
It is pleasing that the temptation to cherry-pick from only the most popular Savoy Opera musical numbers is resisted, with melodies being drawn from a wide variety of sources, e.g. "Kind Captain, I've important information" from H.M.S Pinafore and "When the night wind howls" from Ruddigore.
Sue Ellerby's direction works well in a small space, and it is a particular delight to hear further excerpts of many Sullivan ditties inbetween scenes, all ably played by Becky Norton on keyboards.
The young company make a good attempt at Sullivan's harmonies, though at times the required range of pitch proves a challenge. Those not so well familiar with Gilbert & Sullivan's operas may struggle to find much to enjoy here, but, with some further work, this production could have a future.
Gilbert & Sullivan's Improbable New Musical: The Fringe Lozenge runs at theSpace on the Mile, High Street until August 12 at 11.35am.