The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society celebrates 100 Years and to mark the occasion, EDGAS thrilled us with an enchanting new production of ‘The Gondoliers’ – undoubtedly their brightest light opera.

‘The Gondoliers’ would appear to be a bit of favourite with EDGAS, looking at the production list in the rather splendid centenary souvenir programme. It is, in fact, the tenth production since 1950, putting it one above G&S’s most popular, 'The Mikado'. Which in itself must say something. This latest production of ‘The Gondoliers’ sports a huge cast and absolutely glorious costumes (no skimping here). As usual with EDGAS, it is an absolute joy to watch with the same high standards we've all come to expect from this company.

W. S. Gilbert supplied something pretty special for Arthur Sullivan - as near to a grand opera as was possible. One gets the idea the idea that Gilbert must have been delving through 19th historical romances to come up with this particular plot for ‘The Gondoliers’ and the action takes where you expect it to take place: in bella Italia.
Two young Gondolieri, the brothers Marco (Theo Rankine-Fourdraine) and Giuseppe Palmieri (Sebastian Davidson) amid a forty odd singing throng woo and shortly afterwards wed two Contradina: Gianetta (Louise Martyn) and Tessa (Angelique Celine). Moments later, a gondola arrives (this really looks impressive), conveying none other than the Duke of Plaza-Toro (EDGAS stalwart Ian Lawson) with his entourage, namely the proverbial battle axe of a domineering wife - the Duchess herself (Fiona Main - yet another EDGAS favourite) and daughter Casilda (Gillian Robertson), who has just about as much constructive engineering underneath her ornate apparel as her mother. Really, Casilda is a chip off the old block, albeit with a far kinder heart. Also in tow is servant Luiz (Peter Cushley). The Duke goes straight into his famous song 'From the Sunny Spanish Shore' (a doddle for Mr. Lawson whose been here before). We soon learn that Luiz and Casilda have fallen in love. Then the put upon Duke tells us why they are here, well, because many years ago it was decided that Casilda would marry the King of Barataria but (and it's a big BUT)… as we are about to discover when the Grand Inquisitor Don Alhambra del Bolero (Simon G. Boothroyd, who once again stands out with his excellent diction) arrives. He sings 'I stole the Prince', serving to explain the precarious situation the company have found themselves in.

The so-called brothers Marco and Guiseppe were entrusted by the late King to a drunken gondolier - one was the King's son, the other the gondolier’s son. The man died and we never knew which was the King's son and which his own. The only person who would know was the old midwife (and she needs to be found).

Meanwhile, we are treated to no end of extravaganzas and a couple of memorable songs nicely performed by Tessa and Gianetta at the end of Act 1 and Guiseppe and Marco’s at the beginning of Act 2 – with Marco receiving much applause for 'Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes'. There simply has to be a happy ending and as we know, Casilda is in love with Luiz while Marco and Guiseppe have already married Tessa and Gianetta. There is much more music here than is on offer in the other operettas and for some G&S fans this might make it of less interest. As for the ‘little man' role (Ian Lawson being to EDGAS what Richard Suart is to the D'oyly Carte) he is not exactly given a pivotal role here, which may have made Sullivan a little happier from a compositional point of view. Leslie Ayre wrote in 1972 that ‘The Gondoliers’ turned out to be the happiest and sunniest of all the opera's'. As is usual, the lyrics of a number of the songs have been updated, with particular barbs shot at Liz Truss. What are you waiting for? Yet again EDGAS have served the beloved pair only too well.
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THE GONDOLIERS runs at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until 11th of May.

Photo credit: Scott Barron