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Watermill - The Gondoliers

28th March to 12th May 2001.

This is G & S with a twist! A Chicago mafia family descends on the sophisticated surroundings of a London Italian jazz café, The Gondola! Their aim is to find out which of the sexy Palmieri brothers is the new head of a powerful mob family. They soon find themselves in deeper water than they could ever have imagined possible. Plots and intrigues, love and romance, passion and power – everything is at stake in this madcap, delicious concoction.

See the Guardian review at Unfortunately the Telegraph review is no longer accessible.

The Newbury Weekly News had this to say.

Doyle reinvents G&S in a delicious frenzy

'THE GONDOLIERS', at The Watermill Theatre, from March 28 to May 12

Some may say that John Doyle, director/adaptor of 'The Gondoliers', has shown colossal cheek in taking the best of Sullivan's music from this favourite of amateur societies, and attaching it to a story which only nods in the direction of the original plot. However, the production, as Mr Doyle says, is a reinvention, not an update. Ridiculous, therefore, to make comparisons, better to enjoy it for the zany, deliciously frenzied, jazzy piece it is, though paradoxically, it will be those familiar with Gilbert's words who extract most humour from the script changes.

On a 'chessboard' set, the story of the Chicagoan Cacciatoro family looking for daughter Cassilda's long lost husband coincides with the Mafia seeking the heir to Don Christo Corelli, head of a Venetian branch of "the fairm-ly".

Those who have seen John Doyle's actor/musicians' work in previous productions will have been prepared for the speed, pointed up by sudden. 'freezes' in the action, at which the eight players take 24 roles, play instruments, act, dance, sing - all at the same time. Newcomers merely sat open-mouthed as the players engulfed the whole audience in the atmosphere their talent created.

The Cacciatoros - Mike Afford, Karen Mann and Elizabeth Marsh, were superb, launching with Cassilda's lover, Lorenzo (Mark Crossland) into a glorious reinvention of the 'travellers' quartet, which deserved its enthusiastic applause.

Jo Baird and Rebecca Arch were wonderfully flighty brides for the mercurial Palmieri brothers (Christopher Dickens/Eddie Burton) and, with Karen Mann - particularly impressive as Donna Maria, the spaghetti-eating Signora Cacciatoro as well as cleaner, Fenella - typified the raw energy and vitality which mark a Doyle production.

Sarah Travis, responsible for the orchestrations, and John Doyle are both admirers of Sullivan's music, successfully adapting the basic tunes to suit the 'jazz cafe' atmosphere of this reinvention. Occasionally I felt the words of a lyric didn't quite 'settle', but I expect Id get used to them.

Besides, how long is it since a G&S audience clapped along with the music, or insisted on continuing the final applause after lights up for five minutes, until the actors, some half-changed, returned? Great to see.

As Signora Cacciatoro says: "Life is like spaghetti - a complex, mixed-up tangle!" Clearly, however, John Doyle his another success on his hands.


This is the NewburyTheatre opinion.

The Gondoliers at the Watermill, 28th March to 12th May.

I like the occasional opera - I've sat through and enjoyed four hours of Götterdämmerung. I like a good musical - I embarrass my family by singing along to The Sound of Music. But Gilbert and Sullivan falls between the two, and it's something I've always meant to get around to, but never quite managed it. Until this week, when I saw the Watermill's production of The Gondoliers. Now you might think that getting G&S reviewed by someone who knows nothing about it is a bad idea - I'd reply that I come at it with a mind free of preconceptions!

It's directed by John Doyle, who also directed the Watermill's marvellous production of Carmen (which you can see again this year, briefly), and many other Watermill productions for actor-musicians. The cast of eight took us from Venice to Chicago (Little Italy) to London (Little Venice) and back to Venice. The story is set in the present day and is one of mistaken identity. At the heart of it are the egregious Cacciatoro family from Chicago, with three great performances from Mike Afford as the father (sounding like Jimmy Durante), Karen Mann as the spaghetti-slurping momma, and Elizabeth Marsh as the daughter, a tigress with impossibly long legs. The rest of the cast were equally good as actors and musicians - there were no weak links.

As a piece of musical theatre, it was brilliant, and the Watermill must be on a winner here. If you're not a G&S fan, just enjoy it for what it is; if you are, you may not approve, but you'll want to see it anyway. (The knowing laughs from the audience suggested quite a few G&S fans - and they loved it.)

The great thing about John Doyle's productions is the enormous energy and fun that exudes from the characters (the men were dripping with sweat by the end - women, of course, don't sweat, they glow). In the programme, Doyle says "This piece is the very antithesis of what we aim to do in our production of Carmen." Well, maybe. But you can see the same raw energy and excitement in both, and at the end you leave exhilarated and breathless. I can't wait for his next production.