Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer is something of an underdog. Despite success when it first appeared on the scene, it has been largely overshadowed by the enduring popularity of productions like The Mikado or HMS Pinafore. EUSOG’s decision to stage The Sorcerer is therefore an unusual one, especially as it has not retained a space in the cultural consciousness. The material is pleasant and upbeat, even if it is not the best example of Gilbert and Sullivan’s virtuosity.
The references to social class which run throughout the piece, such as frequent mentions of the characters’ social ‘rank’, are certainly a factor which has led to the production’s relegation to relative obscurity. The inflexible Victorian definitions of class are painfully outdated, and even uncomfortable to 21st century audiences. The initiative which EUSOG’s production team has utilised to modernise the piece is to be lauded, though its execution leaves much to be desired. On the one hand, the choice of a 1970s provides a freer social setting, but without the Victorian background, much of the dialogue comes across as painfully stiff.
That is not to say that EUSOG’s The Sorcerer is without its charms, especially as a student theatre production. Indeed, followers of Edinburgh university student productions are no doubt accustomed to cramped stage-space, claustrophobic seating plans and a sore lack of mod-cons. Consequently, the choice of Pleasance Theatre for EUSOG’s production of The Sorcerer comes as a pleasant surprise. This abundant space easily accommodates the large cast alongside a full orchestra, permitting the production to be somewhat more ambitious in its scope than most student theatre.
Unfortunately, ambition alone is not a sure-fire recipe for success and there are missteps which hinder the overall enjoyment of the piece. Namely, whilst it is undeniable that Tilly Botsford is in possession of a charming voice, it is somewhat overstretched by Alexis’s tenor part and may have been better suited to Mrs Partlett’s contralto. Elsewhere, there is a great energy and sense of enjoyment conveyed by the chorus, creating an infectious sense of rowdy summertime joy which is bolstered by Lisa Kupreeva’s simple but impactful costume design. However, in future productions, the chorus should keep an eye on diction and control in order to elevate the performance. This is an overarching issue here; whilst the comedic tone is greatly enjoyable and successfully sustained, more attention could have been given to vocal technique.
However, it is worth underscoring that Savoy Opera is opera for the people and that EUSOG, ultimately, stay true to the genre, delivering some real laughs and rousing numbers.
Image: Erica Belton