Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A rare outing for one of Sullivan’s lesser known compositions, The Zoo, with a libretto from Bolton Rowe. It was after this operetta flopped that Sullivan teamed up with WS Gilbert. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Zoo was one of the last comic opera’s Sullivan wrote before he took that historic decision to team up with a certain Mr. Gilbert. And you can see why The Zoo is often referred to as a musical folly given the somewhat improbable plot and zany lyrics that librettist Bolton Rowe conjured up. Quite why it was set in a zoo is also hard to fathom, given that we have only a single giant panda parked on a stool in a corner of the stage and occasional visits from a passing penguin.
Still, it’s harmless enough fun, provided that you don’t try to follow the plot and just let the music and general jollity flow around you. The highlight of this particular production is The British Chorus, a well-balanced choir of ten whose harmonies, expression and dexterous movement in the crapped confines of Paradise in the Vault are never less than engaging and at times downright funny. Someone on the production team also has a fondness for knitting as just about every prop in sight from Eliza’s refreshments through to spectacles, pencils and prescription pads had been lovingly crafted in bright colours.
Most of the soloists handled the difficult art of singing with both feeling and an understanding for their music – Scott Thompson (Thomas Brown) and Claire Porterfield (Laetitia) stood out in this regard – but others were a bit hit and miss and our leading man, aside from looking barely old enough to be out of short trousers, was pretty unconvincing as a lover of anything. A pity, as it gave the show a bit of an amateur feel that I don’t think it really merits. With a bit more attention given to the acting and direction, this would have been a real winner.
But credit where it’s due – it was still an amusing and entertaining forty five minutes, largely because of those unsung singing heroes and heroines of The British Chorus. Hurrah for them!