In the week when the ENO lost all its Arts Council Funding (and who knows if we’ll ever see another Gilbert & Sullivan production at the Coliseum?) I for one am grateful to Tarantara Productions for their 2022/23 UK Tour celebrating the work of Gilbert & Sullivan. It may well be that this will be one of the few companies that carry the torch for the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire. They were the Victorian equivalents of Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lennon & McCartney. Artists that appealed to those across the social scale from the pub and music hall to the concert halls and grand opera houses. For my money, that makes them unique in English culture and is one of many reasons why they should be cherished. So three cheers for Tarantara and their current tour. They are one of those exemplary companies run by people who clearly love what they do and do their utmost to give audiences a good time. The brainchild of Martin Handley and Barry Clark Tarantara was formed in 2014. Their mission is to present Gilbert & Sullivan to the highest standards both to existing G&S fans and crucially also to reach out to new audiences. As ever the catch-22 is how to get new people to buy a ticket. They have come up with the format of the greatest hits in one show. This offers audiences the chance to try before you buy, as it were. Having sampled a range of the best that G&S has to offer audiences will I have no doubt go on to try a full opera. As it happens The Yeoman of the Guard is on at The Coliseum for the rest of November. Catch it while you still can.
There is no pit at Richmond theatre so the full orchestra is on stage. This gives the show real intimacy as we connect with the orchestra and the charismatic conductor Martin Handley. A founder member of Tarantara, Martin is a full-on high-energy conductor. Like a football coach, he metaphorically kicks every ball. His leadership of the orchestra is robust, dynamic and effervescent. His on-stage presence adds greatly to the show’s effectiveness. The conversation between the singers and the orchestra feels much more tangible and visceral. Indeed at times, the conductor becomes a focus for the singers’ amorous attention. Joint co-founder Barry Clark is the staging director, narrator and performer in the show. Barry is a delight to watch. Providing pithy narrative links between numbers he keeps the show on the move. Himself a master of the “patter” songs he gives a rendition of unrivalled verbal dexterity. He also does a jaunty Fred Astaire impression as he glides across the stage.
The format for the show is to alternate between a comic number and a love song or lament. This keeps the show well-balanced between the emotions and provides a strong forward momentum. Sian Dicker and Judith Le Breuilly both sing wonderful love songs that tug at our heartstrings. While Yvonne Howard and Rebecca Bottone give outstanding renditions of comic classics. Timothy Nelson and Alexander Robin Baker provide heft whilst Matthew Siveter is eye-catching as a comic foil. The orchestral playing is excellent throughout. The timing is faultless and really brings home the dialogue between Gilbert’s lyrics and Sullivan’s phrasing. The two hours fly by, always a mark of a good show I think. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and can assure you that you are in good hands with the Tarantara team. They are real pros who know and love what they do. So if you’re a G&S fan go along and support them. If you’re new to G&S this really is the perfect introduction. In two hours you will get a delightful overview of G&S and will come out in a position to decide whether this is for you. Please give G&S a go.
Review by John O’Brien
A 26-piece orchestra and acclaimed soloists perform favourites from The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and others, including some less familiar gems. A glorious celebration of all that’s best in G&S’s extraordinary operas!
Performed by singers from English National Opera, Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, Carl Rosa and D’Oyly Carte featuring Alexander Robin Baker, Rebecca Bottone, Barry Clark, Siân Dicker, Yvonne Howard, Judith Le Breuilly, Timothy Nelson and Matthew Siveter, conducted by Martin Handley (ENO, Royal Danish Opera, Australian Opera and regular presenter for BBC Radio 3).
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, TW9 1QJ