25 March 2010

The Sorceror - Opera Della Luna @ The Churchill Theatre, Bromley, Friday 19th March 2010

The villagers of Ploverleigh are preparing to celebrate the betrothal of Alexis Pointdextre, the son of the local baronet and the blue-blooded Aline Sangazure. Only a young village maiden named Constance Partlet seems unwilling to join in the happy mood, and we learn as she tells her mother that she is secretly in love with the local vicar, Dr. Daly and the cleric himself promptly soliloquises that he has been unlucky in love. However, despite Mrs. Partlet's best attempts at matchmaking, the middle-aged Dr. Daly seems unable to conceive that a young girl like Constance would be interested in him.
Alexis and Aline arrive and it soon becomes clear that his widower father Sir Marmaduke and her widowed mother Lady Sangazure are concealing long-held feelings for one another, which propriety demands remain hidden. The betrothal ceremony is carried out, and left alone together Alexis reveals to his fiancĂ©e his plans for practical implementation of his principle that love should unite all classes and ranks. He has invited John Wellington Wells, a representative from a respectable London firm of sorcerers, to Ploverleigh.  Alexis instructs Wells to prepare a batch of love potion sufficient to dose the entire village

Wells mixes the potion. The villagers gather for the wedding feast and the potion is added to a teapot. All of the villagers, save Alexis, Aline and Wells, drink it and, after experiencing some hallucinations they fall unconscious.

At midnight that night the villagers awake and, under the influence of the potion, each falls in love with the first person of the opposite sex that they se. All of the matches thus made are highly and comically unsuitable; Constance, for example, loves the ancient notary who performed the betrothal. However, Alexis is pleased with the results, and now asserts that he and Aline should drink the potion themselves to seal their own love. Aline is hurt by his lack of trust and refuses, offending him. Alexis is distracted, however, by the revelation of his father having fallen for the lower-class Mrs Partlet, but he determines to make the best of this union.

Wells, meanwhile, is regretting the results that his magic has caused, and regrets them still more when the fearsome Lady Sangazure fixes on him as the object of her affections. Aline* decides to yield to Alexis' persuasion and drinks the potion without telling him. Upon awaking, she inadvertently meets Dr. Daly first and falls in love with him. Alexis desperately appeals to Wells as to how the effects of the spell can be reversed. It turns out that this requires that either Alexis or Wells himself yield up his life. The people of Ploverleigh rally against the outsider from London and Wells, resignedly, bids farewell and is swallowed up by the underworld in a burst of flames. The spell broken, the villagers pair off according to their true feelings, and celebrate with another feast.
* In this production, the roles swap at this point and its Alexis who takes the potion and ends up falling for Dr. Daly


Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre – Ian Belsey
Alexis, his son – Oliver White
Dr. Daly, Vicar of Ploverleigh – Philip Cox
Notary – Martin Lamb
John Wellington Wells – Simon Butteriss
Lady Sangazure – Sylvia Clarke
Aline, her daughter – Emma Morwood
Mrs. Partlett – Susan Moore
Constance, her daughter – Claire Watson

Creative team:
Director – Jeff Clarke
Designer – Graham Wynne
Choreographer – Jenny Arnold
Lighting – Guy Dickens
Wardrobe – Denise Crane

I have to admit that I approached this show with a fair amount of trepidation, being a bit of a G&S purist – although I’ve mellowed towards updated productions considerably over the past couple of years. I certainly remember staggering shell-shocked out of a performance of Opera Della Luna’s HMS Pinafore back in my dim and distant youth vowing never to darken their doors again and am amazed at my own narrow-mindedness.  I now firmly believe that if G&S is to survive, it has to be taken out of the aspic that the D'oyly Carte Company tried to pickle it in during its final years. What ODL do, if you don’t know the company, is re-write G&S (and occasionally other light operettas)  in a way that does without the chorus; all the principals double up as chorus members (or even triple-up sometimes, playing more than one role). What this production shows very clearly is that The Sorcerer, if done well and with conviction and panache, doesn’t really need a chorus at all. Certainly I didn’t miss it here; I think that such a thing would actually have bogged down this production horribly. Everyone on stage did their job so well and with such conviction and enthusiasm that the show seemed more or less perfect without it. True, I didn’t find it quite so hysterically funny as a couple of people elsewhere in the audience who seemed to be channelling hyenas on nitrous oxide, but I appreciated the clever humour and the affectionate parody of an art form which, if not handled carefully and with respect, so often tips dangerously towards parody anyway. The updating of the show from the traditional late Victorian to the 1970s didn’t grate at all, and in fact made perfect sense for a story which centres round a love potion; the rather high-falutin’ sentiments in the libretto translated perfectly to a time when LURVE was all the rage and expressed in terms just as quaint and affected (to modern day audiences) as by our Victorian ancestors.
I liked the simple but effective set showing the inside of a wedding marquee which left enough space for the small but enthusiastic orchestra to play alongside it on the stage, becoming essentially the village band (although perhaps it would have been nice for the musicians to have dressed in 70s’s outfits and thus become completely integrated into the production rather than their modern black outfits; no point in putting them on stage if they’re not going to be brought into the show). And I enjoyed all the performances as well. The G&S purist in me didn’t totally approve of flipping the story in the second act around so that Alexis and Dr. Daly (almost) ended up as gay lovers – I think this was a cheap laugh and one that seemed unnecessary given that, until that point, the show had been funny enough without it. Anyway, the entire cast was really “going for it” all evening and weren’t carrying any passengers – everyone was working their socks off and keeping the energy flowing, despite the disappointingly small house.

Anyway, the production is still touring, taking the show on a punishing schedule and there’s still time to catch The Sorcerer and, later in the run, that HMS Pinafore which had me chuntering all those years ago.Check out the dates and venue listing here to see if its coming to a town near you. If it is, go book your ticket immediately because believe me, even if you think G&S isn’t for you, you’ll laugh until you wet yourself.

There are a few reviews out there on the web:



Searching the InterNewt for something relevant (ODL's production isn't on you tube), I came across this excerpt from The Blue Hill Troupe's production of The Sorcerer (they are a New York amateur company) and the set is AMAZING.

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