Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A great night on the Rialto

It's Great Witley Operatic Society's production of The Gondoliers. Anna Hainsworth (Tessa) makes herself comfortable on the broad back of Michael Dhonau (Giuseppe), while Suzanne Millington (Gianetta) and Michael Faulkner (Marco) take a more conventional approach to sitting down. Picture: Peter Willis

The Gondoliers

Great Witley Operatic Society

Swan Theatre, Worcester


THERE was no way of knowing it at the time, but the brilliant-bright set with which Roberta Morrell's production opened was giving a reliable indication of the excellence that was to follow. 

This is a Gondoliers that brims with inventiveness and shimmers with delightful touches that are different – touches that come as a surprise, no matter how many times one may have seen this particular gem from the Gilbert & Sullivan store. They are touches that are ideas translated into accomplished action, often adding another laugh to an outstandingly happy production. 

Early on, for instance, the imperious and stately Duchess is goosed. I am sure that Gilbert would not have been impressed, but this is a moment to be treasured among the steadily increasing number that have accumulated since productions of G & S shook themselves free from the shackles inherited from the days of D'Oyly Carte. 

There is also the point at which somebody cries, “Kate, William – see you at the Abbey!” Somehow, it all fits in. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, it's a joy of an evening.


While we are with the Duchess – an aristocrat of stately stature entrusted to the capable care of Bronwen Carless  –  it should be mentioned that she also shows herself to be not at all averse to a tipple or two, and there is a moment when she vouchsafes a particularly impressive sneeze.

There is another touch, a decidedly cheeky one, achieved on the strength of. . . a pause. It follows the realisation by one of the gondoliers that one of them is an unintentional bigamist and invites the audience to think of the likely result of such a situation. 

The Duchess, in time-honoured style, launches the show after disembarking from the Venetian barge in which she, the Duke, their daughter Casilda, and Luiz, the Duke's attendant, have arrived. The rope pulling the barge leapt briefly into sight on the second night, but who cares?  This is a production that rises above such trifles. 

There is also a point at which the stage could have become littered with flowers or with individual petals, which seemed to fall from the vendor's cart with a mind of their own. But in each case they were scooped up swiftly and unobtrusively – the sign of a group that has been drilled to expect the unexpected. 

Its discipline is also demonstrated by a meticulously-observed freeze while the auditorium resounds with “Tell us, tell us all about it.” 

I had my doubts about the Duke of Plaza-Toro early on, when he arrived wearing a bowler hat, a bow tie and a long black overcoat, looking like a broker's man from Golders Green rather than a grandee in Venice. But Martin Jones overcame these reservations in no time at all with a performance which at one point found him proffering a flurry of footwork that would not have come amiss if he had been singing in the rain. 


As his daughter Casilda, Patricia Head displays one of the best voices on stage – the other outstanding one being that of Paul Thompson's Grand Inquisitor, who combines rich tones with splendid solemnity. 

And there is unflagging joy to be garnered from the two gondoliers – Marco (Michael Faulkner) and Giuseppe (Michael Dhonau) – the latter offering an amiable air while sounding as if the upbringing of which he speaks might have more to do with Golders Green than with a gondola. He's the one who doesn't get his tail-coat out of the way before he sits down. This is a partnership that brims with pleasure, often delivered po-faced, which is always the most effective way of handling comedy. 

There is also, of course, the pairing involving Anna Hainsworth and Suzanne Millington, as Tessa and Gianetta, in pleasing voice and proffering consternation as required. And there is an encouraging contribution from the youthful Aaron Prewer-Jenkinson, as Luiz, the Duke's attendant who unwittingly is the key to the ongoing debate about which of the two gondoliers is in reality the King.  

As ever, it falls to Inez to arrive late-on and unravel the puzzle. Janet Hay resolves her responsibility without a tremor – because this is a company that handles the music as efficiently as it takes on the challenges of the acting. The closing chorus of the first act is presented with aplomb and the Cachucha is a stirring, resounding thing of vigour. Solo contributions and duets are confidently delivered, as are the offerings for three, four and five voices. And the chorus is always on hand, looking happy, sounding splendid, moving well. 

It's a great night with Great Witley. To 09-04-11.

John Slim 

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