Savoy Opera: Pirates are all at sea
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Saturday 26 December 1998
THE QUEEN'S THEATRE
A SHABBY makeshift pelmet hangs over the stage of the Queen's Theatre, photographs of Gilbert and Sullivan ignominiously displayed in crumpled papier mache frames. So much for the preservation of our national treasures. Snubbed by the Arts Council of England, the future of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company - self-proclaimed guardians of the G&S tradition - has been in doubt. Questions have been asked in the House. Which is why the people's champion, Raymond Gubbay, has ridden to the rescue.
So how come this tatty seasonal revival of The Pirates of Penzance looks and behaves as if it's arrived about a century too late? How come extinction suddenly seems like a better bet than preservation? Is this the shapelessness of things to come, or one final reminder that the financial situation is indeed desperate?
Gubbay knows better than to serve up something as obviously penny- pinching as this to a West-End audience. For mise-en-scene read miserly- en-scene. Roger Kirk is credited as designer, but scenery like this isn't designed, it's discarded. Act Two is indeed "a draughty old ruin", but of what? The 1886 production of Ruddigore, as seen from behind?
Now, I love every last syllable and semi-quaver of the Savoy operas and it pains me to see them dragged out of hock in this way. You have two choices when mounting G&S today: either you preserve absolutely the style, texts, and traditions - in which case only the superlative will do - or you find ways (as witness the marvellous Miller Mikado at ENO) of sharpening up the ironies for a modern audience. Stuart Maunder's production manages neither. Rather, he recycles every cliche, every bad sight gag, in the dog-eared D'Oyly Carte manual. How funny the knee- bends of the constabulary could have been, if only the gag had been better choreographed. There were too many more where that came from.
The company were full of good intentions, though Jill Pert's Ruth and Richard Suart's Major-General should have been better. As Mabel, Anna- Clare Monk's soubrette was pretty enough, while Christopher Saunders gave us a sweetly sung Frederic. Their Act Two duet was the musical highlight of the evening - by which time our ears had adjusted to the somewhat weedy, though well deployed, nine-piece orchestra.
Biggest laugh of the evening: "With all our heart, we love our House of Peers." Not for much longer. Be warned, D'Oyly Carte.
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Arts & Ents blogs
Cheryl Cole to return as an X Factor judge in £1.5m deal
What are the best first lines in fiction?
Russell Crowe's Noah banned in three Arab countries before worldwide premiere
Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks
Call The Midwife: Jessica Raine leaves in series three finale
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 2 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 3 North Korea elections: Kim Jong-un wins 100% of the vote
- 4 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 5 Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks