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Review: The Grand Duke at the Dolphin Theatre

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Review by Hannah Fredriksson

The Grand Duke is the final collaboration between the prolific duo Gilbert and Sullivan, and as such it reflects a turbulent time in their working relationship, requiring rewrites after rehearsals had begun, and debuting with a relatively short run. It is also one of their longer works, however for this production by The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA, director Paul Treasure has adapted it into a more succinct rendition for modern audiences. What has been retained strengthens the audience’s understanding of the story.

The story follows a scheming theatre troupe that aims to have the Grand Duke of Pfennig-Halbfennig, Rudolph, ousted from his position by exploiting a 100-year-old law entailing Statutory Duals - rather than swords, men fight for the win by drawing the highest value card from a deck. The loser becomes declared ‘legally dead’, and his belongings and responsibilities pass on to the winner. Conveniently, the law is due to expire the following day, and the leading comedian of the troupe Ludwig uses this information to con Rudolph into participating for mutual benefit. However once Rudolph is displaced of his position by Ludwig’s winning Ace, the latter uses his newfound political powers to renew the law for a further 100 years, meaning that Rudolph and theatre manager Ernest (who lost an earlier dual) are stuck in legal limbo. By virtue of succession, Ludwig finds himself in a confusing situation with four women with valid claims to his betrothal. Then finally - Dr Tannhauser revisits the text of the original law and discovers that the Ace is actually deemed the lowest value card, and as such he declares the legal deaths void, and Ludwig’s renewal of the law invalid. Then in true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, all mismatched couples are restored and all is well once again.

The set is quaint and charming, with two german-style houses framing the town square space that the players inhabit. In Act II, it changes to reflect the theatre troupe’s production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which is simple with four vine-covered columns, yet very effective. The costume palette reflects multiple tones of brown, red, gold and green, with some splashes of purple for regal characters. The overall effect is very warm and pleasant.

Belinda Butler plays Julia Jellicoe - the one English character in the German setting. Interestingly, this part is written to be played with a German accent while the remaining German characters speak with an English accent. Belinda delivers the humorous juxtaposition with perfect comedic timing and powerful vocals.

Mark Thompson plays the titular character of Rudolph, The Grand Duke, with a sense of mischief and whimsy. A lot of amusing expression is communicated through his eyebrows and moustache alone, and his carefully enunciated diction delivered with a flourish.

Michael Cummins plays the comedian Ludwig, whose scheming leads to the unfolding events. His cheeky assertion compliments the power-hungry character.

Led by musical director Michael Brett, the orchestra was bright and joyous, though at times it was difficult to discern the words that were being sung as the volume was quite loud and the performers not mic’d.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA have presented another wonderfully charming savoy opera - the second rendition of The Grand Duke for the company. Hopefully, it is not the last!

Images Supplied


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