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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Nightmare

Blue Fire Theatre

Genre: Comedy, Gilbert and Sullivan

Venue: Grrenside @ Nicolson Square


Low Down

Join Old Adam as he prepares to receive his Long Service Award at the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s grand gala celebration.


Old Adam has been a permanent fixture at the Savoy Theatre, home to the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, appearing in every Gilbert and Sullivan opera since they started in the 1870’s but somehow never landing a lead role.  Or, in fact, any role requiring the ability to sing in tune without tripping over the stage furnishings. 

But such trifles have never stopped Adam from treading the boards to the point that, at last, he’s about to receive his Long Service Award at a prestigious gala evening (possibly in the hope that he’ll then decide to quit).  Determined not to miss his one chance to wow what he assumes will be an audience expecting a bravura performance, we join him as he’s busy rehearsing for his big night.

J.J. Leppink’s pint-sized show (at thirty-five minutes it’s just the right length) has drawn a packed house at Greenside @ Nicolson Street’s tightly configured Fern venue, most of whom appear to be very familiar with the G&S songbook and interested to see if this was, as Blue Fire Theatre’s website claims, “G&S as you’ve never seen it before!”

Well, it was certainly different.  Leppink (or should I say Old Adam) has created one of the more eccentric (and engaging) characters of the Fringe with his wild grey hair, greying beard, stained, gappy teeth and a waistcoated tail suit that looks like it’s been fished out of the nearest skip but, it emerges, is a costume that he “released” from the company’s wardrobe department – quite a while ago judging by the dust and interesting stains it’s covered in.

Adam regales us with tales of how he’s so nearly landed every lead role in the G&S canon, instead having to be content with understudying the stars, understudying the understudy or standing in the back row of the chorus.  Directors, he muses, are clearly blind to his obvious talents for song and dance.

It’s a clever concept, somewhat redolent of Les Patterson, one of the late Barry Humphries many alter-egos, giving Leppink the opportunity to deliver a series of amusing G&S related stories around most of which are woven one-liners and gags that have themselves been doing the rounds since G&S themselves first started out.

There are some nice touches to the piece, including him singing at about three-quarters of the speed that his appropriately huffy pianist is playing, singing in a different key and gracefully going sharp or flat.  Doing that convincingly ain’t as easy as it sounds, which suggests Leppink is actually hiding his musical talent under the proverbial bush.

This piece is advertised as one of Blue Fire Theatre’s regular productions so I was a little surprised to see Leppink using a notebook from which to crib the words of the various patter songs he used.  “Adam” surely would have known every song backwards so doing this rather punctured the character and disengaged the audience.  There was also a little stumbling over words but this might have been down to the fact we’re early in the Fringe run.

Those minor issues aside, it’s a good show, one that you’ll enjoy even more if you’ve at least a working knowledge of the G&S song book.  Judging by their enthusiastic applause, this audience were real aficionados.