Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Gondoliers' at the Northcott Theatre

A lavish production: Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Gondoliers'
Exeter Northcott Theatre
The stripped down Northcott Theatre operation, now owned and run by the University of Exeter, continues to stage productions as before - some drama, some musical.  Many productions are put on by the University itself - or the students.  This week sees perhaps one of the more ambitious ventures for the University: a student production of  Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Gondoliers'.
The Exeter University Gilbert and Sullivan Society has staged similar productions before and a few familiar faces are reappearing in the current run.  New students means new members, however, and there are several new actors taking part.
Becki Eyles directs the overture in the orchestra pit
The sets and costumes are lavish and sumptuous, and wonderfully lit by an enormous array of lights.  The lighting designer Ben Wills has done an excellent job.
The student orchestra, directed by Becki Eyles, opens the proceedings with the familiar overture.  The woodwind section is particularly strong.   Sammie Buzzard's oboe playing stands out, along with Hannah Williams on the bassoon.  The curtain rises on a spectacular opening dance involving most of the female performers.  The light and colour is overwhelming and the beaming smiles of the cast are clearly genuine.  Members of this society really love their Gilbert and Sullivan.
Ian Spackman, as Antonio, rows his 'gondola' 
Rhiannon Moushall as Tessa, provides an excellent opening number before being joined by old hand Ian Spackman as Antonio and the male members of the supporting cast.  Their song and dance number ends with a great little set piece with Harry Edward's minor character being carried off-stage.  The main characters are very strong.  Rebekah Brown's Casilda is charming, while Andrew Hanley as Giuseppe and Matthew Juggins as Marco make a superb double act.  Their singing, dialogue - and mime - are beautifully timed and delivered.  Jolyon Drew's Grand Inquisitor is a very imposing character with quite the most impressive costume.  When the inevitable pairing up comes at the end of the opera he and Gemma Claisse as the widow Inez make a very striking, if sombre and irrevelant, on stage duo.
This tale of Shakespearian confused identity, and surprisingly modern satire on monarchy and republicanism, is hugely engaging and entertaining from start to finish.  A special feature is the obvious pleasure the whole cast take in the whole affair.  Productions like this are exactly why they all joined the Exeter University Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
One word of caution.  If planning to come to the Northcott by car allow at least ten minutes to walk from the car park to the theatre (or to wait for the shuttle bus).  For the more active theatre-goers, cycling to the theatre may obviate the parking problem but, if approaching on Prince of Wales Road rather than New North Road, it is vital to go all the way to Streatham Drive before starting the uphill slog.  A short cut up St German's Road to the Lemon Grove will not work during the extensive building work.  The endless maze of roads and tracks are cut off by an enormous buiding site, and will not lead you to Stocker Road or the Northcott.  They will, however, provide an exhausting tour of the campus!

Exeter University Gilbert and Sullivan Society
Northcott Theatre Exeter University Tue-Sat 8-12 March 7.30pm (Sat matinée 2.30pm)
The Gondoliers
Tickets: £10-16 Box: 493493 10am-6pm and 1hr before show.

And at the end of the run there is a very special musical event to end the Northcott Classical Concert Series.

Piatti String Quartet
Northcott Theatre Sunday 13 March 7.30pm
Haydn: Quartet Op.76 "Emperor"
Schubert: Quartettsatz
Smetana: Quartet in E minor "Z mého života" ("From my life")
Tickets £13 Box: 493493

The Piatti String Quartet:
Jessie Ann Richardson, 'cello; Charlotte Scott, 1st violin;
Michael Trainor, 2nd violin; David Wigram, viola.

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