Utopia Ltd, Milborne Port Opera

promptMPOSarah BignellIT’S often said that there is a good reason for “rarities” from established playwrights and composers, and that is because the works are inferior.

So it is with Gilbert and Sullivan’s penultimate collaboration, Utopia Ltd, which preceded the final opera, The Grand Duke, itself an immediate failure.

But for Milborne Port Opera, celebrating its 24th year of productions in the village hall, the 2014 production completes the journey into the works of composer Sir Arthur Sullivan and librettist William Schwenck Gilbert.

Director Geoff Allan has made some judicious and amusing tweaks to the original, ensuring that the story is up to date with references to bankers’ bonuses, privatisation and poverty traps.

Set on the island of Utopia, where the despotic but nice King Paramount has fallen into the power of gangsters Scaphio and Phantis, it’s about what happens when Princess Zara returns from a stint at Girton College and she and her father decide to Anglicise the island.

The plot is the usual Gilbertian melange, but this one is even less comprehensible than most. Both the other princesses (are they supposed to be younger than Zara?) are also trained to be English by their governess Lady Sophy, a woman whose view of relationships was set by reading fairy stories as a toddler.

And the gangsters (played by Neil Edwards and Stuart Waite) sport accents that range from Chicago to the Deepest South, via Hackney Marshes!

The music is nothing like as tuneful or memorable as classic G and S, and the company only really sings out in the (borrowed) bit of HMS Pinafore.

But it’s all good fun, and it has its moments. Richard Gaunt plays the king with energetic gusto – a larger than life character with hair styled for Adrian Edmondson in The Young Ones.

James Craw relished the chance to send up the strangulations of the tenor as Capt FitzBattleaxe, and his duet with Zara (Alison Stevens) was one of the highlights, as were Lady Sophy’s song, poignantly done by Sarah Bignell, and Andrew Armstrong’s Mr Goldbury aria.

The set was a colourful delight, but the eyeshadow could do with toning down!

Once again the MD was Caroline D’Cruz with a fine small orchestra of local professional musicians.

For the sake of completeness, it was interesting that this company, which has developed into a skilled ensemble over the years as the hall has improved its technical and audience facilities, should have tackled Utopia Ltd. But the unfamiliar story and tunes meant that the enunciation needed to be much, much clearer, and some amplification for the singers would have been a boon for the audience.

Utopia Ltd continues to Saturday 26th April.



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