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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Improbable New Musical : Less Miserables

Coily Dart Theatre

Genre: Comedy, Musical Theatre, New Writing

Venue: theSpaceUK at Niddry Street


Low Down

A beltingly good hour of top class singing and acting with a labyrinthine plot thrown in for good measure.


Music is wafting from the theatre as the audience spills in, agog to see how you can take the highly improbable, labyrinthine plots that are the hallmark of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and twist it around the storyline of that long running musical, Les Miserables.  And the mellifluous tones of the nine strong ensemble ensure that we’re immediately in the mood for what turns out to be a beltingly good hour of top class singing and acting.

I could try and explain the plot, but you might still be reading this review by the time the impressive Coily Dart Theatre’s limited run has finished next weekend.  So, just combine the storylines of Les Miserables, Pirates of Penzance, Mikado, Pinafore and another half dozen G&S staples and you’ll have some idea of the improbable love matches, coincidences, twists and the inevitable contrived happy ending that unfolds as the cast weave their melodious tale.

Simple is often best at Fringe shows, so hats off to director Sue Ellerby and her capable team for a set which consisted of just a handful of very versatile stools.  Costumes consisted of a base of jeans and white shirts to which simple accessories were added, allowing changes on the fly and greatly aiding character definition and identification.  And Joe Allen’s lighting states nicely matched the mood of the moment.

The simplicity extended to the scripting and direction too.  Multiple references to G&S operettas, plots and arias had been very skilfully woven into a story that flowed seamlessly along.  You were never too far from the next “corny” moment or clever G&S quip and I could see many in the packed audience marvelling at the way the whole show hung together.

Acting and singing were pretty much universally top drawer, which perhaps explains the free flowing laughter that pervaded throughout and the extended applause that greeted the very clever denouement and finale.  And whilst the strength of the production lay in its ensemble pieces, particular credit should go to Elizabeth Fenner as Josephine, possessed of a crystal-clear voice that allowed her to deliver her solos with the poignancy and pathos they demanded, yet who also commanded a very nice line in the art of commedia dell’arte.  Mention should also be made of Craig Butterworth who, as Jasper, dominated the stage and has impeccable comic timing to go with his resonant tenor voice.

Christian Gittings as Scynthius/King Paramount was a real standout – superb acting, excellent movement and a voice capable of delivering classic G&S patter with clarity and real rapidity.   And, as a singer myself, I know how important your pianist is, so top marks to musical director Vicki Hing for her impeccable and very supportive accompaniment.

This production has a lot to recommend it – a clever, funny and wonderfully improbable storyline, top notch acting and singing, excellent movement and choreography and a bunch of performers who are clearly enjoying what they are doing.  Their enthusiasm shines through the show, giving it the sparkle and bubble of champagne.  It’s something I’d highly recommend for any G&S lover or any lover of good music in fact.  But you’re going to need to act quickly to get a ticket as the press office advised me that most shows are pretty much sold out and the run ends on 10th August.  That tells you something about the quality of the show Coily Dart Theatre are delivering.  Catch it if you can.