Opera della Luna specialise in doing operetta differently. It doesn't always work, but this new production by Jeff Clarke of The Gondoliers – celebrating the company's 20th anniversary – works splendidly. What's more, Arts Council finding for Clarke's Venetian Initiative has allowed for a chorus, offering young would-be music theatre practitioners a chance to perform with experienced professionals.
Clarke leads the nine-piece instrumental ensemble (the orchestral arrangement is by Richard Balcombe) which is on stage left. The acting area is dominated by Elroy Ashmore and Nigel Howard's bold sets and filled by some larger-than-life characterisations – not to mention some eye-catching costumes. (Incidentally, when we move to Barataria for Act Two, there's a subtle hommage to the famous Punch cartoon of 1890 in the design of the throne).
Lynsey Doherty's no-nonsense Gianetta is well balanced by Stephen Brown's Marco; their opposite numbers are Maria Jones as Tessa and Robert Gildon as Giuseppe. The somewhat haphazard marital choices made durng the game of blind man's buff has some delicious visual gags for the girls of the chorus. Victoria Joyce's oh-so-precious Casilda melts with the "Oh, bury, bury" duet with Greg Castiglioni's Luiz.
Gilbert (and Sullivan) created a number of memorable, somewhat grotesque characters. If Ian Belsey's Grand Inquisitor projects a blend of the worldly with the downright sadistic, Kristin Finnigan's Duchess of Plaza Toro almost swirls her husband of the stage. Almost, – but Carl Sanderson makes the most of his three big numbers.
Crisp enunciation is the secret of success with the Savoy operas. Gilbert's wit can be fire and quicksilver as well as punningly ponderous. Nearly all the principals have worked with Opera della Luna before, and the sense of ensemble playing is palpable. Musical as well as acting cues are picked up seamlessly. It all makes artificiality somehow seem perfectly natural.
The Gondoliers is on national tour until 24 May and again in 2015.