[reviewed for The Public Reviews]
Opera della Luna at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
Was there ever a saucier Sorcerer ?
Opera della Luna have taken Gilbert's first full-length comic opera and fast-forwarded it a hundred years to the 1970s, where its themes of free love and mind-altering substances feel very much at home.
We are at a garden fete, inside an impressive marquee. Before the lively overture is finished, we've had handbells and unrequited love, neatly symbolised by the vicar's panama hat.
The “pale young curate” in question was Philip Cox, by no means ancient enough, but hilarious, especially in his drug-fuelled infatutation with Alexis in Act Two.
Alexis [now there's a Seventies name] was played as a groovy swinger – flared jeans, purple velvet, droopy moustache – by Oliver White, who managed his tenor arias with some style, too, even when hand-jiving, disco dancing and cavorting with his intended, Emma Morwood's Aline.
No slouch in the fashion department, the Sorcerer himself, J W Wells, in the safe Savoyard hands of Simon Butteriss, half hippy, half tradesman, tottering about on platform shoes. A witty, sharp characterization; how nice that in this version he's allowed back from Hell [ in a red crushed velvet costume ] for one last encore.
Another Opera della Luna regular, Ian Belsey, was the funny old buffer Sir Marmaduke, with Syliva Clarke as his Lady. She had just the kind of rich, deep tone these roles demand. Her poignant recitative ending with her handbag snapped firmly shut.
The villagers [no chorus, of course] were represented by Susan Moore's down-to-earth Mrs Partlett, her love-lorn daughter [Rhona McKail] and a very amusing Martin Lamb, who also played the notary.
Among the naughty liberties taken with the 1877 original were the knee-trembling antics during Aline's Happy Young Heart, rhyming “wet-look jeans” with Milton Keynes, and most glorious of all, the Act One finale, when the philtre starts to take effect: psychedelic lighting and an ensemble based on The Lost Chord, Sullivan's parlour favourite, written in the same year as the Sorcerer.
As ever with Opera Della Luna, the music was treated with respect, but not reverence, and the inventive staging and polished comic performances made for a disgracefully enjoyable evening.
The Ploverleigh Village Band, on stage throughout, was conducted by Artistic Director Jeff Clarke, who was also responsible for this version, probably the first professional production for thirty years.
Today, April Fool's Day, they're in Hayes.
Two mysteries remain:
Why can this enterprising and gloriously entertaining company manage a two-night run at other venues, presumably doing good business, while the Mercury's one measly night is less than half full ?
And why did we have a 20-minute delay - planned and apologized for, it's true ?
At least it gave us a chance to savour some of the tunes from "that infernal nonsense Pinafore" ...
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews