The Gondoliers

Date 13th October 2023
Society Stamford G & S Players
Venue Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre
Type of Production G&S
Director Ruth Palmer
Musical Director Gavin Ashley-Cooper
Choreographer Ruth Palmer
Producer Ruth Palmer
Written By W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan


Author: Stuart Bull

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers. needs little introduction. Sullivan was excited that Gilbert had chosen a Venetian setting for their latest venture, and threw himself into composing Italianate music, with the result that the music has a true Mediterranean sparkle. Gilbert’s story of a baby kidnapped at birth was partly autobiographical, but of course, he embellishes the story with his famous topsy-turvy wit.  Ruth Palmer is an experienced hand at Savoy Operas and she and her Musical Director Gavin Ashley-Cooper
displayed a sure touch in their traditional approach to the show, with the odd surprise thrown in. Who would have expected a boy soprano, Harry Simmons, to sing the music from the Cornetto advertisement while punting
a gondola across the stage?

One of the joys of watching this production was to see the mixture of youth and experience on stage, and it is to the society’s credit. I was thrilled to present two NODA awards to members of the company, including a youth award to 13 year-old Julia Salmon, who played Gianetta with wide-eyed innocence. I noted that Matthew Clayton, who took on the baritone role of Guiseppe so well, is also only 15. One of the problems of producing The Gondoliers is the larger-than-normal number of principals and minor principals required. Stamford G&S are lucky to have the depth of numbers necessary to cast it well. The experience of some of the principals shone through. Husband and wife Ken and Margaret Wainwright were very funny as the Plaza-Toros, and well-matched with Cat Johnson playing their daughter Casilda. During their big scene in the second act, the fire alarm sounded (false alarm) and they evacuated the stage. After a period of uncertainty, the show recommenced as if it had not been so rudely interrupted. Well done them!  Casilda’s secret paramour, Luis was played by John Clayton, and he could both play the drums and the bugle! Marco and Guiseppe (the Gondoliers of the title, played by Matthew Clayton and William Lewis) were suitably dashing and handsome, and well-matched vocally with their pretty contadine, played by Julia Salmon and Amy Couchman. Alex Moores, playing the Grand Inquisitor Don Alhambra del Bolero, was hilarious with his exaggerated Spanish aitches, and his barely concealed lechery. It was nice to see the experienced Barbara Hayward taking on the role of Inez, the nurse. The choreography was simple but effective, making the most of the limited space available. A lovely extra touch h as to bring Melissa Tupholme on to dance the Cachucha in front of the chorus, bringing an extra dimension to the dancing. Her grace and poise were impressive.

Worthy of mention is that at times, the choreography involved the cast in “signing”, using British Sign language.   Ruth, the director, is keen to increase the inclusivity of the Society’s performances, and the cast were all taught to sign the lyrics as they were singing and dancing. How clever and how commendable! The minor principals and chorus were animated and active, not just the “park-and-bark” that one can often see in amateur G&S productions.  Gavin Ashley-Cooper and Kate Bidwell (rehearsal pianist) had obviously coached the cast and chorus well – the singing was good, and the diction in the main was very clear. Even the double-chorus “Thank you, Gallant Gondolieri” which trips up a lot of choruses, was smooth and clear. The orchestra was very good and never intruded over the vocal line.

The costumes were bright, colorful, and appropriate, and the make-up excellent. Lighting was very good, and the sound was fine too – even I, a deaf old man, could hear everything. The set was traditional and very pretty, and good use was made of the limited space, especially in the dancing. My only criticism is that one of the regal thrones in the second act was invisible from the stage left auditorium – but I understand this was due to difficulty with a recalcitrant flat. The programme is well-laid out and very informative – it’s a shame that the society does not wish to enter it into the competition.

All in all, a very entertaining evening, and my wife and I went home with “feelings of pleasure”, as Ruth had predicted. And to cap it all I won the raffle!!