Four singers on a stage are faced with an impossible task: to perform the entire works of Gilbert and Sullivan in 60 minutes. Time constraints aside, can the egotistical characters, to who this challenge has been set, control themselves long enough to pull it off? This witty and delightful farce written and directed by Ray Cullom attempts to do just that.
The execution of this undertaking relies on the concept that at the heart of each operetta lies four fundamental characters: the romantic lead, the ingénue, the battle-axe older female (to carry the subtext) and the character man (normally drunk but loved universally by audiences). With a trunk full of props and costumes, two screens to act as the ‘wings’, and a piano to accompany them the performers throw themselves into the action. The air-headed soprano (Carolann Sanita) works out that the hour breaks down into 4 minutes for each piece with 4 minutes for encores. From Thespis (easy, as none of the music survives to this day) to The Grand Duke (who wants to hear that anyway?) the characters take turns to summarise each operetta before launching into the highlights of the individual scores. Ingenious Paradox lives up to its name as each of the singing characters mimic the traits of the archetype they represent in the operettas.
The ensemble cast execute comic and musical performances in perfect harmony (excuse the pun), bouncing around the stage with the exuberance of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Occasionally the accents slip into the casts’ native American during the songs, which makes it sound more like a Broadway musical than may be appropriate to the music, and there is no rendition of the Policeman’s song from Pirates of Penzance, however these are the only two flaws in the show. Each voice is strong and rich, with stand out performances from Matthew Thompson (falsetto voce) in HMS Pinafore, and Carolann Sanita as Princess Ida. The Mikado is a show-stopping piece, with Parker Andrews (bass) conducting the action in the background in a unexpected spritely manner, and Kate Chapman gives an excellent turn throughout as a bitter, ageing, mezzo-soprano diva.
This show encapsulates the spirit of the Victorian romps of Gilbert and Sullivan. It is clever, well choreographed and beautifully performed. Even those not familiar with, or fond of, the music would struggle to leave without a smile on their face and feeling energised. An absolute joy.
Gilbert and Sullivan in Brief(s) is on until 27th August at The Pleasance (16:30) 1hr.