Review by Hannah Fredriksson
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of WA, and for their annual production they have gone all the way back to the first full-length comic opera produced by the duo; The Sorcerer. Written in 1877 and first performed by the society in 1974, director Paul Treasure has now brought the story to life on the stage of the Dolphin Theatre at the University of Western Australia.
The story concerns the small town of Ploverleigh where many of the townsfolk are unlucky in love. Newly engaged Alexis and his fiancé Aline wish to see love transcend all ranks and social classes so that others can be as happy as they are. To Aline’s dismay, Alexis seeks out the assistance of a Sorcerer to prepare a love potion that is added to the tea served at their engagement celebration, resulting in hilariously mismatched couples. They then have to find a way to restore everyone to their original state.
The set is simple but pretty, with hedging along the rear of the stage so that the story is ever present in a quaint garden party. The costuming throughout the entire cast of 33 was colourful and whimsical with elegant details throughout.
Emily Schinkel (Aline) and Chad Henderson (Alexis) are wonderfully bright and perky as the enamoured leading couple. Mark Thompson shines as John Wellington Wells, the titular character. He performs with a certain flourish that evokes mischief and mystery, in a way reminiscent of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. My favourite number in the show is in fact his introduction; ‘My name is John Wellington Wells’.
Avalon Rector portrays Mrs Partlet with comical facial expressions that never falter. Robrecht Herfkens (Dr Daly) has minor pitch issues but plays the role of the self-confessed ‘old fogey’ with endearing charm. Claire Lane (Lady Sangazure) does an excellent job of portraying a much older character, and alongside Max Page (Sir Marmaduke and Stage Manager) they perform a rap-like duet in ‘Welcome joy adieu to sadness’ with ease.
Liza Cobb (Constance) interestingly is the only character to utilise an American accent in this story set in a Victorian-era English village. Nevertheless the entire cast sings well and performs with high energy and humorous delivery that allows the audience to get swept up in the story.
Under the musical direction of Izaak Wesson, the orchestra beautifully supported the hijinx occurring on the stage. However, positioned in the area between the stage and the audience and with none of the actors mic’d, the vocals of the performers were at times difficult to discern.
Despite being one of Gilbert & Sullivans’ lesser known productions and containing values and phrases that are old fashioned for modern audiences, The Sorcerer is a remarkable insight into the earlier days of their career, establishing a formula that would later become familiar in their more renowned works. Paul Treasure and The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Western Australia have produced a joyous and charming production that hits all the right notes.