Gilbert and Sullivan Abridged – a review

Having been a Gilbert and Sullivan fan since I was about 12, a chance to hear ALL their works in the space of 90 minutes sounded good – a really enjoyable evening’s entertainment. Having seen The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s hilarious, witty, slick production of that great man’s works a few years ago and an equally entertaining version of the bible, I was expecting a good night out.

Not so!

Maybe paying £2 for a “programme” – a piece of card with a Union Jack on one side and biographies of the cast on the other – should have alerted us to the cheap-skate production we were in for. Even the programme sellers were apologising as they sold them.

Gilbert and Sullivan Abridged was performed by only 3 people, Jane Webster, a lady with a voice, though rather too much vibrato, David Osmond, a young tenor, quite pleasant to listen to on his own but who had difficulty holding his own line against the wobble, and Eric Carte, who did the patter songs but didn’t know the words and couldn’t sing.

The premise of the so called story was that these people belonged to a rather debilitated G&S Society from a village called Scratchy Bottom and at first I thought they were acting – pretending that they couldn’t sing. Believe me, these three would not pass an audition for the chorus of ANY self-respecting G&S society.

It was toe-curlingly embarrassing, especially as most of the 600 people in the audience were G&S aficionados, many of whom could have got up on stage and performed a great deal better than what was on offer.

The pianist was presumably too embarrassed to appear. There was no piano – only a recording of what sounded like a fairly run-of-the-mill electronic keyboard which, of course, didn’t follow the soloists or allow any time for the ad libs which are so much a part of the patter songs. The fact that the performer didn’t know the words and came in a bar late at times, was not helped by the accompaniment galloping on regardless. With only 3 players, one sound man and maybe a roadie, they could have afforded a really good live accompanist, which might just have salvaged at least some of the numbers.

Poor Wand’ring One was sung in Eflat when it should have been in Aflat – do they think we don’t know these things? She could have got up there if she had tried – though playing the part of the policeman doing the tarantaras in bass register can’t have helped her voice any! A chorus of pirates and policeman represented by two men and a woman should never have been attempted. It sounded like one man and his dog!

It would be rude to call this performance amateur – there are so many amateur (i.e. unpaid) societies who could have done a far better job than this. This performance was under-rehearsed, badly cast, badly written and not entertaining in any way, shape or form. The full house at Malvern Forum Theatre was cheated.

We were not the only ones to leave at the interval. There was no hope of it improving in the second half. There are many performances scheduled around the country in the next few weeks. Take my advice – if you’ve already bought a ticket, stay at home, paint a wall and watch it dry. It will be a better use of your time.

Many comments have come in on the above post – please click on “comments” below to view these.


Published in: on February 9, 2013 at 11:31 am  Comments (29)  

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29 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Absolutely.
    If you’ve bought tickets tear them up, if you haven’t, don’t go.
    The only way it could be salvaged would be if you took your own G&S society along and drowned out the performers.
    The material was weak at best and hence I suspect any actor / singer who might have been up to the task had turned this down.
    We did stay for the second half (having driven 40 miles) and the rap was one moment of what the performance should have been throughout.

    If these were professionals then they should know better than to turn up not knowing lines, using scripts on stage and unable to follow the tape. As it says above, how can you possibly play to the audience when you are stuck to a prerecorded track? – and then everyone from street buskers to you tubers does a much better job.

    To act as if you are very amateur takes tremendous skill and you need to be on top of the intended mistakes to make them funny. To think you can turn up and do it badly to look like poor amateurs insults your audience.

    Worst thing I’ve ever been to, amateur or professional and the first time I’ve felt the need to express my disappointment publically. I trust Malvern notes this and thinks very carefully before engaging these performers or production team again.

  2. Dear Sheila,

    My husband and I were at this performance and could not agree more with every word you have written. We, too, left at the interval, finding it a struggle to stay even that long. We could not understand why people were applauding. As you say it was toe-curlingly embarassing and an insult to the audience. It defies belief how these “performers” can have the gaul to expect people to pay good money for this. As a retired primary school teacher I have witnessed many school assemblies, concerts and plays by primary children which far outperformed this so-called entertainment.

    Thank you for restoring our sanity.

  3. Well I dont think we were watching the same show, I enjoyed every minute.

  4. Re the above comment, and I’m going to be rude. Are you totally uncritical as well as tone deaf?

  5. I too was at the Malvern performance and found it almost unbearable. The couple next to me left at the interval and had I not been with friends I would have gone too. The flat singing was dreadful and even worse were the numerous songs where it was so obvious that the words were not known – the audience knew them much better.
    Avoid at all costs.

  6. Just a postscript – my husband and I both left a comment on the Malvern Theatres website on Friday and this morning we have had a lovely reply apologising and saying they will draw our views to the show’s producers. I shall, therefore, send them a link to this page, which explains the criticisms so succinctly. Thank you to Sheila, Judge and Paul.

  7. I entirely agree with all of you (except Sue!). The majority of the audience could have done a much better job. A total waste of money and time! I and my 3 friends did stay for the second half in the vain hope that it would improve ( it honestly couldn’t have got any worse!), but it descended even further into a muddled mire of ineptitude. We did, however, enjoy our Indian meal after the “show”, once the G and S Abridged induced nausea had subsided. Please boycott this ****!!!

  8. How dare they? This was an insult to the audience and all those who know and love their G & S. Well done Sheila – I do hope these reviews are brought to the notice of this inept cast as well as the Malvern theatre management. This tour should be cancelled a.s.a.p. to save others!

  9. Don’t forget that anyone can leave a comment on the Malvern Theatre website. Just click on the 8th Feb. and you will find you can leave a review – or e-mail them.

    Many thanks, Sheila for starting this off. It’s so good to know we are not alone.

  10. Sorry, Sue, but I can’t believe that’s a genuine comment. Do you work for the company concerned? Because this is the only professional production I have ever walked out of at the interval feeling extremely angry (as opposed to disappointed or because I didn’t like the piece). I’ve never seen an amateur G&S as woeful or poorly performed as this and I think it’s absolutely disgraceful that a professional company think that show is worthy of being staged anywhere and that those three performers believe they gave a decent professional standard performance. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  11. I work (voluntary) at the Theatre and the feed back through the ushers was very positive. A fun way to look at G&S. The visiting company wanted the programmes sold at £1. The theatre said £3 and they met in the middle. Why is it that most groups in society can mock themselves apart from Opera & Light Operetta?

  12. We have nothing against mocking, if it is done well. Our objection is the quality of the performance. May I suggest you read the above blogs carefully, as that will help you to understand how incompetent this group of performers is.

  13. James, sorry, but I am a professional performer and was, unfortunately, in the audience on Friday night. If this production was supposed to be a ‘piss take’ on bad amateur dramatics (which is what I assume you are suggesting) then it failed dismally. No self-respecting am-dram company casts someone who can’t sing Poor Wand’ring One in the correct key. It takes skill, as someone else said, to come across as deliberately bad and make an audience realise that’s what they are doing (think Les Dawson). Either these people couldn’t act and sing well enough to begin with, or they couldn’t act and sing well enough to convince us that they were supposed to be performing like that.

    And if the theatre thought £3 was acceptable for the ‘programme’ and had to ‘meet in the middle’ at £2 then Malvern Theatres also need to be ashamed of themselves.

    People have written to the theatre to complain about this show. People left at half time because it was so poor. Not just one or two, but quite a number. I don’t think they all ‘missed the joke’. Those who have heard back from the theatre management have been told that they have had “quite a number of complaints” and that is VERY unusual.

  14. It didn’t get any better in Chelmsford tonight.

  15. I was at the first performance on 2nd February at Swansea and for the first time ever in my life (I’m 67) I felt the need to email the producers with my comments. Words failed me as they did with the artists themselves. This was the most atrocious performamce I have ever seen and from a so-called professional company, it begars belief! We had no programmes (thankfully a saving of £2) but we did have an accompanist – poor girl- who had the difficult task of keeping up with these soloists and deserved a medal at the end of the night. This was far worse than any amateur show I had ever seen – and Ive seen many hundred. My wife and I just looked at each other and laughed but we did endure it to the end to see if it could get any worse!!! What a rip-off at £17.00 a ticket. If you love G&S stay well away: if you love an enjoyable entertaining night at the theatre-stay well away! This was an absolute disgrace. The script,though factually accurate was very thin and so very amateurish.The worse theatrical experience I have ever endured.

  16. and the programme is still £2 …

  17. We went to Ilfracombe with low expectations having read the reviews above but we actually had a fun evening. It was a charming small-scale piece, with funny and creative bits, a Gilbertion sub-plot and some fine singing and comedy from Jane Webster and David Osmond and deadpan humour from Eric Carte. It didnt take itself seriously and the audience took it in the spirit in which it was offered. There were several fluffed lines and duff notes but not enough to make anyone leave early. It must have improved since the tour began. However, the writer must be told that the Pirates of Penzance actually premiered in Paignton, Devon, not New York!

  18. We saw it at Worthing last night. I hasn’t got any better. Needless to say, we escaped as soon as we could. A total waste of time and money.

  19. We saw it at Chelmsford on the 14th and it’s obvious from the above comments that it’s been an amazingly bad show from the start. Having sung lots of G&S, we were all wincing right the way through to the end, mostly at Eric Carte’s performance. I left a polite request that they brush up their words & music on their Facebook page and – surprise, surprise, it’s been removed!

  20. The worse show I have ever seen! I too left at the interval.

  21. Well, I caught it at Truro last Saturday and found it very disappointing. In general I share most of the adverse comments above, although not, perhaps, to the most extreme extent. One gets used to actors who can’t sing doing the ‘patter’ parts, one can live with the occasional transposition for a soprano whose voice has started to go south, and one can even tolerate a ‘belt’ musical comedy tenor if he has a degree of charm; but never in forty years of attending professional theatre have I encountered a production of anything whose cast so comprehensively simply didn’t know their lines – even with scripts on stage.

    Mine was the eighth performance of the run, so there really wasn’t any excuse. Eric Carte was by far the worst, but all three were at it to a certain extent. A quite nice idea – Daly singing ‘Time was when love and I were well acquainted’ as a duet with his younger self – was ruined by the fact that a) Eric Carte was paraphrasing Sullivan’s tune; b) both Eric Carte and David Osmond were paraphrasing Gilbert’s lyric – but they were both paraphrasing it differently; c) the two singers weren’t together. And so it went on. There were some good bits – Jane Webster sang nicely throughout, and occasionally very well; and the business of the accordion morphing from ‘A Wand’ring minstrel’ into totally unrelated accordion tunes was genuinely funny.

    I stayed to the end – I never walk out of anything, however bad – and was very disappointed. The programme cost £1, by the way. The high spot of the night was the accompanist, who never put a foot wrong. But we didn’t see her. She remained behind a screen throughout and was not even brought forward for a bow at the end.

    I hesitate to declare my credentials, because this was obviously a show aimed at the general audience rather than the G&S cognoscenti. The Inner Brotherhood are always going to be disappointed by a show like this because they will always think they could do better themselves. But this time they would be right.

  22. I, as many others above, was angered to be presented with such a non -show and wrote to Malvern Theatres directly to express my feelings. I did receive a very courteous letter in response and stating that the producer of this show was actually in the audience that first night. Clearly, he did not feel moved to put an end to the misery spreading around the country as the tour continues. Why are the British so polite? .We really should have stood up and walked out en masse.
    If they were real comedians and took this to the comedy clubs, they would have been eaten alive. Rose Jack, Worcester.

  23. Colchester 28th Feb ….. And they haven’t improved! Still excruciatingly bad.

  24. We too were at Colchester on 28th February. Yes, very disappopinted indeed. Others around us seemed to be enjoying it, but there were a notable number of people who were not applauding at all. The couple next to us left during the interval. As for me, I couldn’t wait for it to be over – and I don’t think that’s ever happened before with any “professional” production – I only stayed for the sake of my wife who is much too polite about these things. To be fair It did perk up a bit at the beginning of the second half when the accordian came out – and the “rap” sequence was actually very funny (although not strictly G&S, of course). But at £18 or so for a ticket? The Mercury should be able to do better than this!

  25. We left at the interval. They don’t care though – they already had our money. As you say though John, shouldn’t the theatre have researched the previous experience of their acts before booking them?

  26. Have you also noticed that you can’t leave comments on their Facebook page? I’ve tried warning people off via comments on there but they don’t post so all you have are their own self promoting posts!!

  27. Yes and they never respond to comments on the contact page. I’ve left four comments each time drawing their attention to yet another comment on this website. They clearly have no professional pride whatsoever.

  28. My husband and I eagerly anticipated the “show” at our local theatre (Buxton Opera House) on 27th February thinking it would be along the lines of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. How wrong we were. It was awful and we too left in the interval. I agree with the comments of your previous correspondents. Even the props were wrong. I’m not an expert so wouldn’t know if anyone was singing in the wrong key but the phrasing was all wrong in many of the songs (the Judge’s song in Trial by Jury being one). I hope it hasn’t put off people new to the operas of Gilbert & Sullivan!

  29. Neither of the male cast could sing the younger one plays piano accordian well and should stick to that it was a complete was
    te of money

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