The Gondoliers, Festival Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
The Gondoliers (EDGAS) - photo credit Ben Glasgow
Show details
The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society
W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (writer / composer), Alan Borthwick (artistic director, assisted by Emma Lawson and Simon Boothroyd), David Lyle (musical director / conductor), Mike Pendlowski (lighting designer and production manager), Donna Ewing (dance captain), Helen Pendlowski (stage manager).
Ian Lawson (The Duke of Plaza-Toro), Peter Cushley (Luiz, the Duke’s attendant), Simon G Boothroyd (Don Alhambra Del Bolero), Theo Rankin-Fourdraine (Marco Palmieri, Sebastion Davidson (Giuseppe Palmieri), Andre Crawford (Antonio), Kai Yao (Francesco), Ross Main (Giorgio), Brian Boardman (Annibale), Fiona Main (The Duchess of Plaza-Toro), Gillian Robertson (Casilda), Louise Martyn (Gianetta), Angelique Celine (Tessa), Emma Lawson (Fiametta), Annabel Hamid (Vittoria), Leah Kincer-Christie (Giulia), Carol Macbeth (Inez), Judith Anderson, Clare Armes, Kath Barbour, Christine Clark, Maggie Cormack, Wendy Crawford, Catherine Culligan, Nicole Dickie, Donna Ewing, Catriona Graham, Alicia Glasgow, Caroline Kerr, Charlotte Kilby, Rae Lamond, Norma Macdonald, Lorriane McBain, Carol Macbeth, Lisa Mackenzie, Olivia Noble, Sarah Petrie, Susan Ross, Gillian Tait, Camilla Thomson, Hugh Craig, Giulio Forcolin, Colin Harper, Steven Kincer-Christie, Craig Macbeth, Bob Martin, Malcolm McGregor, Ben Morse, Tom Pickering, Steve Rapaport, Paul Shephard, Keith Starsmeare, Sorley Stollard, Scott Thomson, John Webster, Mick Zijdel (chorus of gondoliers, contadine, men-at-arms, heralds and pages). Orchestra – Alison Galbraith (leader), Gillian Akhtar, Katherine Arnott, Helen Eagen, Anne Giles, Clair McCrossan, Ian McLennan, Fiona Morison, Sheena Roberston, James Young (violins), Susan Donlevy, June Nelson, Hilary Turbayne (violas), George Reid, Natalie Poyser, Vivienne Young (cellos), Fiona Donaldson, Bobby Millar (double basses), David Morrow, Stella Henzell (flutes), Morven Bell (oboe), Matthew Giraldo, Vaughan Townhill (clarinets), Rainer Thonnes, Minjee Kang (bassoons), David Rimer, Lisa Norman (horns), Alistair Neally, Elliot Longworth (trumpets), Niel Short, Daniel Richards, Adrian Sulston (trombones), Jake Perry (timpani and percussion).
Running time

In the Piazzetta of Venice the peasant girls are sighing over the peerless beauty of two gondoliers, Marco and Giuseppe - they have hearts for them in plenty but alas they are four and twenty and the gondoliers, only two.

Not that the duo proclaims to be fussy about their choice of brides, all being young and fair and amiable besides, but it doesn’t prevent them cheating a little at blind-man’s buff to get the girls they want.

Life’s a pleasant institution, a pudding full of plums, but just as they are about to take life as it comes a mystery arises. 

The Duke of Plaza Toro has arrived from sunny Spain (vowing never to go to sea again) sadly not on his horse as, owing he presumes to an unusually wet season the streets are in such a condition that equestrian exercise is impracticable. Insuperable difficulties meet him at every turn, not least his near penniless state but he does have a surprise to deliver.  His daughter was married as an infant to the heir of the throne of Barataria, whom due to insurrection was spirited away to Venice to be placed in the care of a respectable gondolier with a terrible taste for tippling who “could never declare with a mind sincere which of the two was his offspring dear, and which the Royal stripling!”.

Two husbands appear to have acquired three wives and but it’s not altogether a disaster as the two can be packed off without their new brides to reign jointly until it is all sorted out. If only they hadn’t adopted republican sensibilities and the Duke’s daughter didn’t love someone else …” Well, here’s a pleasant state of things!”

This comic opera is a fanciful tale told in deadpan style to hilarious effect.  Both a mismatched romance and a satirical swipe at the appeals and dangers of rulership and snobbery, privilege, legal fiction, and cronyism. The somewhat bumbling Duke (who claims his social influence to be so enormous that he is going to be incorporated into the Duke of Plaza-Toro Limited) is played by Ian Lawson to pompous perfection. The good-natured gondoliers shine as they uncomfortably try to share a throne while their idealistic principles leave them doing all the labour as everyone else is elevated to the head of their own department. The work has more than enough star roles to go around with the second act in particular allowing for sumptuous costumes, dancing and shining songs including the lyrical “Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes”.

Updated lyrics allow an almost pantomimic swing at current affairs and politicians.  A change from a reference to “illustrated papers” to “Disney+” works less well. As a piece it develops beautifully from a slightly slow and crowded first act (the lead roles almost drowning in cast and flowers) to a vibrant finale “We leave you with feelings of pleasure!”. 

EDGAS have captured the appeal of watching a classic movie, somewhat anachronistic but with unquestionable charm and which, while disrespectful of authority, remains joyful and cosy.

It is gratifying to see the Society in its one hundredth year keeping the work on the stage and looking to the future.


Show times: 8 to 11 May 2024 at 7.30pm.  Matinee at 2.30pm on 11th (Audio description, British Sign Language, and touch tour available).

Tickets: £20 to £28.50 (discounts available).