8th October 2016
Poynton Civic Centre
Type of Production
Gilbert & Sullivan
Author: Kevin Proctor
For their 2016 offering, Poynton G&S society present the rarely produced; Utopia Limited — the 13th, and penultimate collaboration of Gilbert & Sullivan, which was first staged in 1893. The setting, a fictitious South Pacific island kingdom named ‘Utopia’, a fair distance from the British Isles – yet, unsurprisingly (this being G&S an’ all) England is most certainly present in spirit! “Corporations are people!” may be current, but the concept of limited legal exposure and a certain degree of personhood in the organisation of business is the foundation of this book.
Upon entering the auditorium there is no mistake to be made that we’re about to venture to the tropics for the evening. Either side of the stage is adorned with tiki poles and we hear an ambient track of lapping waves and ocean breezes, a nice touch. The curtains part to reveal a tropical island as predicted - the stage is filled with the female inhabitants of Utopia, singing of being “In Lazy Languor Motionless … in Lazyland.”
Musical accompaniment offering fine support for this production, following suit from last year, are just two pianists under the baton of Musical Director, Catherine Silman. This giant, traditional comic opera score had been impressively scaled down to work with just two pianos by Jason Hawkins, who was also one half of the melodious piano duet. It is surprising – quite remarkable in fact – how just two pianos can impressively compensate an orchestra and while it doesn’t feel as though our ears are missing as much as you might predict from such a dramatic reduction, does this mean that the luxury of an orchestra is a thing of the past for Poynton G&S?
Scaphio and Phantis, who together comprise the Supreme Court of the land, are well represented by Richard Goodall and Richard Huggett, providing chuckles a plenty making them endearing despite their human foibles! King Paramount the First, a very fine king, indeed, is played by Poynton G&S regular Mike Nash with a fine voice and a noble demeanour. Portrayed with fervour and a mock pompousness is Sarah Parker as Tarara, the public exploder who later joins Scaphio and Phantis to form an inspired trio.
The Lady Sophy, English Governante, is artfully performed by Betty Davidson who possesses a rich voice and tremendous acting skill which delivered a beautifully crafted act, most enjoyable.
Performing several duets which, as always, ring commendably are two more familiar faces to the Poynton G&S stage, Andrew Pugh and Sue Sawyer as Captain Fitzbattleaxe and Princess Zara.
The chorus is full and melodic and are at times, vocally, an absolute joy.
This production had been directed by Richard Huggett. I was delighted with his choices and cracks in the surface towards posing an original vision of this historic piece, time shifting his production ever so slightly to the 1920’s (a period which is a current vintage trend) is completely a step in the right direction to offer a sense of originality of G&S whilst having fun and exploring the master’s creation with a fresh interpretation. Including references to the state of modern day politic disasters was wholly intact with the nature of the show and were received with merriment amongst the audience – making us react to the production exactly how G&S would have intended, though it’s certainly a smack in the face with realisation that our country doesn’t seem to have come too far on the political front, I know some would say we’re in more of a mess now than we were in 1893 which would undoubtedly give William and Arthur a good laugh at our expense!
I would go as far to say that Utopia Limited is probably my favourite of the G&S operas to date, I found this production to be the most engaging of my G&S encounters so far and although it did run at quite a length it certainly didn’t prevent or hinder my enjoyment – which is some achievement for someone who doesn’t like lengthy shows!
I thank you, as always, for broadening my knowledge of a genre I knew so little about when I started my NODA endeavour five years ago! I look forward to being introduced to Iolanthe next year!