The GondoliersTristan Selden

The Gondoliers is one of the longest-running shows in musical theatre history, not just in The Savoy in 1891, but also on the boards of the Robinson College Auditorium or, in the case of this 2022 production, West Road Concert Hall. The longevity and popularity of this Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera can make it difficult for a single performance to make the material feel fresh and unique. Despite this challenge, director Rose Painter and Musical Director Richard Decker inject this well-loved show with all the staggering musical talent and enthusiasm their cast have to offer.

“A complicated plot of three wives, two kings and one lightly confused audience”

The Gondoliers is a part comedy of manners, part comedy of errors, and part political satire. As the name suggests, the show follows two charming Gondoliers; Marco and Giuseppe. Sought after by all the young women of Venice these two men spend their days in bliss, drinking, dancing and slowly navigating the canals. Their tranquillity is complicated when they are informed that one of them, though they do not know which, is heir to the throne of Barataria. What follows is a complicated plot of three wives, two kings and one lightly confused audience. I was also slightly confused by the continual references to the Spanish inquisition. Although I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised, no one ever does expect the Spanish inquisition.

“Close to being a funny, creative and interesting production of an oft-told tale”

The plot is secondary: what takes centre stage are the exceptional musical performances. The Répétiteur, tucked as they are underneath the stage, seemed to rise, filling the room with their confident, bold renditions of some of the more lively musical numbers. The stand out musical performance of the night came from Emily Callow (Casilda) who, even during her larger musical numbers, kept her performance consistent and added a depth to their role beyond the script. The ensemble too demonstrated exceptional, musical dexterity. Their voices, joined in unison, were transfixing, mesmerising, evocative… and almost exhausted my thesaurus.

However, the quality of these ensemble pieces was slightly marred by the lack of creative choreography. There was an occasional awkwardness on stage, as though the cast were not totally confident in their positioning. The occasional inclusion of abstract props seemed to add to this sense of slight unpreparedness. As with the choreography, these abstract props did not have a focused intention and felt perfunctory as a result. Despite this, there were some memorable comedic performances from the likes of Owen Elsley (Giuseppe), Tiffany Charnley (Gianetta) and Hebe Hamilton (Duchess).

The Gondoliers Tristan Selden

Both Tiffany and Hebe did an excellent job with the roles that they had. These two performers, despite the difference in their characters, gave a controlled comedic performance exposing both the ridiculous manners of high society and the simple life in Venice. The performance of the night, however, came from Owen Elsley. He commanded the stage with a presence and physicality which brought the physical humour and absurdity of his character to the fore.

A brief mention should also be made of Mahon Hughes (Lighting Design) and Isabella Greig (Costume Design). Mahon’s lighting choices, especially for some of the larger set pieces, brought great depth and dynamism to the show. I did feel as though his talents were underutilised and some of the more static scenes could have used his creative lighting choices to bring them further to life.

In the case of costumes, one can only assume that this show provided an interesting creative challenge. Greig was able to delineate between the world of the court and the urban charm of Venice and the Venetian gondoliers. She achieved this through a ranging use of period costume, from the finery and extravagance of the nobility, the severity and dourness of the inquisitor, and the necessary homogeny of the chorus were all chosen with an attention to detail which elevated the show.


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Ultimately, this 2022 production of The Gondoliers at the West Road Concert Hall is close to being a funny, creative and interesting production of an oft-told tale. However, it has not quite reached its potential yet. A lack of tightness in its actors positioning, lack of confidence in some comic performances, and underutilisation of some of the most interesting staging elements holds this production back from being one the best in Cambridge theatre this term.

All this being said The Gondoliers, with its few stand out performances and overwhelming musical talent provides a diverting two and half hours for any fan of musical theatre.

The Gondoliers is on at 19:45pm from Fri 11th February - Sat 12th February, and 14:00pm, Sat 12th February at West Road Concert Hall