EUSOG, HMS Pinafore (Assembly Roxy, 21 – 25 March ’17)

Photos. EUSOG.

“Every member of the cast should be pleased with their committed, lively, fun and engaging performance that made for a great night out”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

It is a moot point whether the restraint of trade as practised, for example in the Middle Ages by the City of London Livery Companies, and more recently by some trades union through the closed shop, protects the integrity of the brand through quality control, or acts merely as an effective way of cornering the market, but the arrangement between Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilbert with Richard D’Oyly Carte, whereby the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company held exclusive performance rights to their entire operettic oeuvre for 90 years must be one of the most spectacular coups de theatre in the history of the genre. Of course, it was all about the money, including staging at the Savoy Theatre, and served both parties well.

The D’Oyly Carte licence expired in 1961 and unleashed a torrent of enthusiastic amateur productions while the D’Oyly Carte Company managed to maintain brand leadership amongst the professional shows. The relative ease of the music to play and sing, along with its catchy tunes (alas, poor Arthur Sullivan with his longing to be a serious composer: he actually wrote some quite good serious stuff)) gave the works a new lease of life. In 1962 this writer played the Sergeant of Police in a prep school production of the Pirates of Penzance, other G&S triumphs followed …..

So it would be some surprise to Gilbert and Sullivan that the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group would exist at all. However I am sure they would have been delighted, as was I, with the spirited and enthusiastic performance they are currently giving of HMS Pinafore at the Assembly Roxy.

Director Holly Marsden’s interpretation aims to criticise the British class system and to question what it is to be British through setting it in the modern era aboard a cruise ship. As she rightly claims, this mimics Gilbert and Sullivan’s original intentions, for they were ruthless satirists, but had such a light touch that their politically immune audiences considered it merely “poking fun”. Conceptually the production can bring nothing other than the enduring relevance of  “Englishness” and class, but that’s powerful stuff in a Scotland (re)considering independence and/or Brexit.  ‘Class’ may be an Edinburgh thing but it seems pretty resplendent around my way. Yet, and again to the director’s credit and in the spirit of the original, this was not some heavy handed student left wing rant, but a joyous fun filled romp played for laughs which came aplenty.

The orchestra struck up the familiar overture sounding small in number but large in enthusiasm, perhaps rather too like a ship’s orchestra before they settled in, and then the “ship’s company” took us through the opening ensemble “We sail the ocean blue” and we set off on a cruise of musical merriment that lasted the entire evening without a drop. The liveliness of the cast was engaging, honourable mentions going to Angus Bhattacharya’s wonderfully effete and arrogant Sir Joseph Porter, complete – naturally – with pelvic thrust, and to Talya Stenberg’s Buttercup, whose Californian accent was delightfully incongruous before she got under way. The most musical voice on stage that night belonged to Biomedical Sciences student Livi Wollaston, who should seriously consider switching to a degree in Vocal Studies at the Conservatoire.

The mentioning of a few should not disappoint the many who made such an effective contribution to the show.  Every member of the cast, and creative team,  should be pleased with their committed, lively, fun and engaging performance that made for a great night out.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 22 March)

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The Seagull (Bedlam: 7 – 8 October ’15)

The cast. Photo: EUTC Facebook page.

The cast.
Photo: EUTC Facebook page.

“Enlivening”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

At a guess, the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick is not a must-go destination for students. Well, maybe directors Holly Marsden and Kathryn Salmond are the happy exception for their production of The Seagull gets as up close and personal as the centre’s webcams. And, critically, it does so unencumbered by tradition. No sentimental guano here.

Don’t get me wrong. This Seagull does the business: it’s intelligent, funny and sad – but it is also grounded and plain. Nina’s lofty ‘I am a seagull … No, that’s not it’ is lost on the wind (or cut) and her fraught state at the end of the play is all the more effective for being low-key.

Leave the real emoting to Konstantin (Douglas Clark), who does a fine, anguished job of it – just as he did as Alan Strang in Equus in March. It is not so much an uptight, stressy, performance as an upright one: earnest, principled, and lonely. Kostia stands apart as young and intense, a little weird, which goes down well with an EUTC audience. Chekhov is suitably amended. Where, back then, Kostia left university in his 3rd year ‘owing to circumstances’; now he did politics at uni. and got nowhere.

A seagull is still the emblem of the Moscow Arts Theatre and it is appealing to see how the play is up to date. There’s embattled youth with dreams and no prospects; parent(s) brittle with glee and anxiety and a professional class whose diplomas are looking tired and whose pensions are meagre. Town and country are miles apart and there is the constant engagement with what pays and what doesn’t. There’s even bingo and the fortunate winner who takes all, including the girl.

For Kostia, theatre just exists as nice vistas in abstracted space, which is a cheerless and absent place to be. It is more enlivening, by far, to stay in the company of others. There’s uncle Sorin, played with bleak glee by William Hughes; doctor Dorn, a gently sardonic Finlay McAfee; and the famous literary cad Trigorin, whom a soulful Jonathan Ip rescues from the censure that he probably deserves. However, it’s the women who really people the stage: Arkadina, Kostia’s impossible, self-absorbed mother, is strongly played by Elske Waite; Nina, lovely and brave, is a beautifully articulate Katya Morrison; and an unerring Sally Pendleton is the trapped but resolute Masha. I thought all three performers offered a junior master class in diction.

Of especial note in a solid, more than pleasing production was the spare quality of the costume and stage set. For once the doors opened and shut without shaking the ‘walls’ and a single fireplace, a table and a few chairs proved just enough.

We’re told that this is the first time that The Seagull has been put on at Bedlam. I’d be happy to see it or its relations fly back soon. Three Sisters, anyone?

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 8 October)

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