CAMPING ON THE PLANKING
At the Coliseum last autumn Gilbert and Sullivan’s seagoing Savoy Opera was immense, with a huge revolving ship, Les Dennis as the first sea lord, a massive chorus and orchestra, a Boris-on-the-zipwire moment and an irresistibly confident hornpiping tot. Here it is stripped down, performed by one of Sasha Regan’s strapping all male casts in gym-kit costumes, larking around on bunks and, in the case of David McKechnie as Sir Joseph Porter, wearing truly cherishable sock- suspenders.
I have raved before about these pleasingly ridiculous, artfully underdressed Sacha Regan productions, which indeed were responsible for converting me to G and S at all. The production suits Wiltons’ decrepit music-hall grandeur perfectly, with the thumping unpretentious piano, the silly-clever rhymes, knowing gender-bending costumes and drag-comic behaviour. It isn’t purist and doesn’t need to be, because the plots are absurd and the rhymes clever and they belong to all ages and sexes.
But the important gloss is the slickness, the discipline, the sharp Lizzi Gee choreography(sometimes balletic, always expressive. These things elevate to artistry the sheer high jinks, which by the way are brilliant in the elopement scene.
Men have a particular way of being funny – not always universally appreciated by women – but when we do ‘get it’ as amused, headshaking big sisters, it is magic. It has to be said that musically the choruses and male-character numbers are more thrilling than female solos, because falsetto is difficult to sustain attractively for long unless by the best-trained of counter-tenors. Regan’s cast are excellent, but sometimes Sam Kipling as Josephine makes you feel a bit sorry for him having to do it, as well as for her lovelorn state. The temptation to take it down an octave does creep over you. Scott Armstrong as a beefy LIttle Buttercup has it easier, because you’re meant to be laughing rather than sympathising. But you can forgive anything for the sheer ebullient vigour of it, for the sock-suspenders and bowler hat on Porter, and the swing ensemble’s magnificent legs.
wiltons.org.uk to 9 April
then Winchester – (theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk) 21-27 April
Then, who knows..