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Review: The Sorcerer (Wilton's Music Hall)

Review by Sophie Wilby


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Despite arguably being one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s lesser-known works (at least compared to works such as The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance), upon its debut in 1877, The Sorcerer was very successful. Now, almost 150 years later, Charles Court Opera hopes for similar success as their touring production graces the stage of Wilton’s Music Hall.



The Sorcerer is a two-act comedy opera with a libretto by W.S Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It is set in a small, English, country village where celebrations are in full swing for the betrothal of Alexis (Robin Bailey), heir to Sir Marmaduke (Matthew Palmer), and Aline (Ellie Neate), daughter of Lady Sangazure (Catrine Kirkman). Not everyone in the village shares the excitement however as young, somewhat naive, Constance (Meriel Cunningham) laments her perceived unrequited feelings for local Vicar Dr Daly (Matthew Kellet). He too, appears less enthused by the union than his fellow villagers as he ponders on his missed opportunities for love in his youth. In fact, the union of the two young lovers appears to have left many villagers reflecting on their romantic past as we learn of the history between Sir Marmaduke and Lady Sangazure - both of whom seem to regret that they did not pursue their romantic feelings for one another. 


Love is certainly in the air for the village of Ploverleigh even before Alexis decides to take it upon himself to test his theory - that love alone should supersede barriers of class and age. Enlisting the help of Sorcerer John Wellington Wells (Richard Suart) and his betrothed, he casts a love spell on the entire village wherein anyone who drank the potion will fall madly in love with the first person they lay their eyes on (as long as they are currently unmarried), causing chaos reminiscent of A Midsummers Nights Dream. 



Upon witnessing the ‘success’ of the potion, wherein Constance falls for a very old, very deaf Notary (Hugo Herman-Wilson), Alexis insists that he and Aline should also drink it, to ensure that their love never fades. Though she initially refuses, Alexis’ plan backfires as she concedes to his wishes and, perhaps predictably, falls in love instead with the Vicar. 


As John Wellington Wells finds himself fighting off the affections of Lady Sangazure, he and Alexis decide to undo their misguided love matching even if it means one of them must pay the ultimate price - death. 


At this point, I want to offer some context for this review. This was my first experience of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, and in fact, my first experience of an opera altogether. Bear in mind, then, that there is little for me to directly compare to when it comes to reviewing this production. 



With this in mind, I felt that the pacing of the story could have been more effective. Much of the comedy of the show relies on the mismatched lovers as a result of the potion and all of this takes place in the second act. It is certainly a strong second act because of this, with Constance’s love song to the Notary ‘Dear Friends, Take Pity on my Lot’ wherein she declares “you’re all that I detest! I love you dearly” standing out as a highlight, alongside the equally humourous Vicar’s lament in ‘Engaged to So-and-So’ that all the women of the village (described by him as comely, whether they are old or young - all comely!) are already engaged. 


This isn’t to say that the first act wasn’t enjoyable, it certainly worked to introduce us to the cast of zany characters, but it didn’t deliver the same level of humour as the second. Where there was humour to be found, however, the cast of 9 certainly delivered. Again, Meriel Cunningham is particularly noteworthy in this, elevating her character beyond their position as secondary through her performance alone. Her early performance of ‘When He is Here’ sets the bar high, it’s just a shame that this level of comedy slowly drops off throughout the first act. 



Story aside, the sheer talent within this cast cannot be denied. For the most part, each was given their chance to shine musically and every one of them delivered. Gilbert’s clever lyrics shine as they’re delivered perfectly, with Sullivan’s stunning harmonies perfectly suited to the acoustics of Wilton’s Music Hall. Particularly impressive was Suart, with his easy delivery of tricky patter songs, demonstrating his experience with Gilbert and Sullivan’s material.  If there is a criticism of the musicality of the production, it is only that at times, it was clear that the performers were waiting for their music queue to begin, leaving slightly awkward pauses that interrupted the flow of the performance. Love potion aside, the real magic of this performance comes from the superbly accomplished vocals of this cast. Such vocals are supported by equally talented Music Director David Eaton, tickling the ivories to the left of the stage. 


The small stage of Wilton’s Music Hall was adorned with a large Citroen HY inspired van, painted with a bright floral pattern boasting the logo of ‘Mrs P Teas’, reflecting the central prop of the story - the teapot that distributes the magic potion (designer Lucy Fowler). The programme suggests that such a van was distributed between 1940 and 1980, with inspiration taken from the late 1960s to early 1970s. This explains the bright colours and repeated floral patterns, but I did find it a little hard to pinpoint exactly when this production was set, as the style of dress (Catrin Thyrsson) and dynamic of the village did suggest an earlier period. I was, however, a fan of The Sorcerers’ Del Boy - come - Mr Wormwood from Matilda style to emphasise his cheeky, slimy, almost wheeler-dealer personality. 



As I said at the beginning of this review, The Sorcerer was a new experience for me as someone unfamiliar with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. But it has officially converted me into a fan, or at least, has certainly piqued my interest to seek out future productions of their works - as if I myself had drank that magic love potion and fell for the production before me! It’s clear to me, too, that the Charles Court Opera is well placed to take me on this operatic education and I look forward to their future productions. 


The Sorcerer plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until June 15th


For tickets and information visit https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/875-the-sorcerer


Photos by Bill Knight

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