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Charles Court Opera’s Express G&S | Review

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas were always rather absurd in terms of plotlines, and so it naturally follows that a show based on their repertoire would be in a similar vein. Bridget (Catrine Kirkman) is pushing a trolley on an express train (hence the show’s title), called – wait for it – the D’Oyly Carte. There’s a brief number about sausage rolls, and a longer one about tea and cake, while some of the punchlines elicited groans from the knowledgeable opening night audience.

EXPRESS G&S - Catrine Kirkman, Philip Lee, Matthew Kellett Photo Bill Knight.
EXPRESS G&S – Catrine Kirkman, Philip Lee, Matthew Kellett Photo Bill Knight.

The story is either constrained or made all the more creative by the inclusion of (as the programme would have it) “all of the extant works” that were produced by Gilbert and Sullivan. I haven’t, admittedly, seen productions of all of them, and so some of the references and inferences may have been lost on me, but the general feel of a fast-paced narrative combined with even faster lyrics helped to maintain interest. It’s not quite ‘blink and you miss it’ but it’s a show that sees more action in one act than some others see in two (or even five).

Reg (Philip Lee) is the train conductor, seeing to, amongst other passengers, a famed inspector (Matthew Kellett). The show is billed as a “murderous musical mystery”, and when the inspector sports a moustache and a French accent that might as well be Belgian, it hardly takes a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to work out where this journey is going. At the piano is musical director David Eaton, who also has a few lines in the show: he glides through the challenging score with flair and confidence.

From my upstairs vantage point, the acoustics of the theatre were not ideal for listening to patter songs. I am not technically minded enough to know for sure whether the use of microphones would have improved the situation or not, but there were lines that I didn’t quite catch in their entirety. Fans and followers of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works will doubtless have fun working out which scenes are derived from which production. When the murder victim is revealed, it is somewhat surprising, but the deceased’s identity does put one relatively at ease with regards to the comedy elements of this show, of which there are plenty.

Cabaret seating is in force in the auditorium – if anything, it’s nice to be able to put one’s drink down on a table whilst watching a show, and it simply looks better in an era of social distancing than the ‘do not sit here’ signs up all over the place in other venues. The set and props are moved about with ease, and while the running time may not be as long as any of Gilbert and Sullivan’s actual shows, there’s a gentle sense of humour that is relatively rare to find in this day and age. A pleasant and witty experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The masters of G&S in small spaces” present this brand new, side-splitting spoof of the classic railway mystery. A trio of intriguing travellers (and a pianist) take on multiple characters, uncover clue upon red herring, while ripping through the G&S operettas with a cake soaked butter knife, all aboard the G&S Express. Get ready to be swept away on this Topsy-turvy journey – from Penzance to Titipu, from Venice to the Tower of London, from Portsmouth to Fairyland – in a brand new story packed with references from every single G&S operetta. This highly inventive, witty murder mystery spoof is splattered with favourite songs from the Savoy operas including ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, ‘The Mikado’ and ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’, as well as from those less performed, such as ‘The Sorcerer,’ ‘Princess Ida’ and ‘Utopia Ltd’. All aboard the G&S Express – destination: Murder!

Express G&S cast: Matthew Kellett, Catrine Kirkman and Philip Lee.

Charles Court Opera
present ‘EXPRESS G&S’
The complete works of Gilbert & Sullivan – in 75 minutes!

Carpenters Mews, North Road,
London N7 9EF
Box Office: 020 7609 1800

Wednesday 23rd June 2021 at 7:30pm – Press Night
Thursday 24th June 2021 at 7:30pm
Friday 25th June 2021 at 7:30pm
Wednesday 30th June 2021 at 7:30pm
Thursday 1st July 2021 at 7:30pm
Friday 2nd July 2021 at 7:30pm
Duration: 75 mins

The Roman Theatre Open Air Festival, St Albans
Monday 31 May 2021 at 1pm & 4.30pm

Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
Saturday 26 June 2021 at 3pm & 7pm

Lichfield Festival
Sunday 11 July 2021 Matinee & Evening

Hever Festival, Hever Castle
Monday 9 August 2021 at 8pm

The International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival
Royal Hall, Harrogate
Thursday 12 August & Tuesday 17 August 2021 at 2pm

City Varieties, Leeds
Wednesday 29 September at 7.30pm

Key Theatre, Peterborough
Wednesday 15 September 2021 at 2pm


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