The Gondoliers

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich


Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

Welcome as the flowers that bloom in the spring, the East Norfolk Operatic Society fills - yes, fills! - the Maddermarket stage with colour, movement and melody for Margaret Collingwood's inventive but traditional production of the evergreen Gondoliers.

Time takes the edge off some of the Victorian satire but things generally don't change very fast in Britain. No one is surprised when egalitarian principles fold when the perks of power are found just too enticing, and there is still a knowing chuckle when we are reminded how far people will go to oblige a minister of state. The function of the aristocracy also remains on the agenda.

With musical director Eric James at the keyboard, the eight- piece band provides rhythm and support without ever drowning Sullivan's tunes or, even more important, Gilbert's words.

The chorus combines to make a grand sound, whether partying on home ground in Venice or hailing their drum-beating monarch on an away day in Barataria.

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In a cast with more than a dozen named parts, Patrick Monk is quite a heart-throb gondolier, while Rachel Weeks brings vivacity to the role of his girlfriend. Clive Swetman's imposing Inquisitor has style - and form too, to all appearances. With a nice turn of foot in the dancing, Alan Weyman shows up the superannuated Duke as a classy nincompoop.

Real authority comes from Lindsey Sidell who commands attention as she intones her astounding secret.

The ensemble, though, is generally better than the solos. The fandango, for instance, somehow seems well drilled and at the same time recklessly uninhibited.

That is the spirit that makes the show. After long preparation and a string of rehearsals, the old operetta that so many know so well comes across fresh and lively once again.