Colourful, energetic show created Utopian euphoria

Mike Tipler (Calynx), left, with Richard Gauntlett (Tarara)
Mike Tipler (Calynx), left, with Richard Gauntlett (Tarara)

JUDGED by the speed with which DVDs of the Friday (first) night performance of Utopia, Limited at Buxton Opera House had gone earlier and the clamour for them during the interval and at the end of second one on Saturday afternoon, it is fair to say it was a massive success.

The large number sold in such a short time, about seven hours, must have created some sort of record for a single show in 18 years of Gilbert and Sullivan Festivals.

Interest in only the third professional UK production of the penultimate work in the G&S canon was clearly in evidence early with the two performances selling out very quickly after festival booking began in February – misjudgement over its potential pulling power on the part of the organisers?

Possibly, because whereas G&S Opera Company productions usually get at least three performances, only two were scheduled for Utopia while six were given over at this year’s festival to a so-called ‘brand new production’ of Pirates – wonder if they were all well-attended?

Andrew Nicklin’s colourfully costumed, energetic South Seas and truly ‘brand new’ staging, amazingly rehearsed and put together in ten days, caused last weekend’s Utopian euphoria.

He had vastly experienced performers to work with, on top of which many of them were involved in other things in the festival, including noted conductor John Owen Edwards and the excellent National Festival Orchestra, which played for all the shows over the three weeks.

Portrayed as heavily costumed medicine men, Simon Butteriss, particularly, and Ian Belsey were outstanding as the villains Scaphio and Phantis; Donald Maxwell enjoyed himself enormously after arriving seated on a turtle as King Paramount and Jill Pert was her irrepressible self as Lady Sophy.

Deborah Norman’s facial expressions when singing have always been a delight and were much in evidence in her coquettish Princess Zara, while her ‘Flowers of Progress’ included Oliver White, who continues to impress, as Captain Fitzbattleaxe and a fruity-voiced Mr Goldbury from Bruce Graham.

There were also first-rate performances from the two semi-professionals among them (who could easily have had full blown professional careers had they wished), Stephen Godward: Sir Edward Corcoran, and Simon Theobald: Mr Blushington.

Eminently worthy of note, too, was Michael Tipler’s Shakespearian delivery as Calynx, a mark of the strength in the casting.

Congratulations to the Sheffield bass-baritone are also in order, by the way: he won the best supporting actor award in the festival’s competitive element for his King Hildebrand in Derby G&S Company’s Princess Ida.