Charles Court Opera’s Express G&S at The Pleasance | Review

G AND S EXPRESS was conceived during Lockdown, and is the well-nigh perfect POST-lockdown entertainment, especially for G and S aficionados, but also for anyone who relishes a feel-good, often hilarious, 75 minutes in the company of three highly talented singing actors. John Savournin and David Eaton, who must have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything Gilbert and Sullivan, have raided all their works, except Thespis, plus Burnand and Sullivan’s Cox and Box and have come up with a Poirot style, tongue in cheek, mystery to rival Agatha Christie, using not only Sullivan’s music, but, very cleverly, much of Gilbert’s dialogue and lyrics, interspersed with mock-Gilbert of their own. The result is a seamless pastiche and an operetta in all but name.

EXPRESS G&S - Catrine Kirkman, Philip Lee, Matthew Kellett Photo Bill Knight.
EXPRESS G&S – Catrine Kirkman, Philip Lee, Matthew Kellett Photo Bill Knight.

At the risk of spoiling what plot there is, the show takes place on board a sleeper train en route from Penzance (presumably!) to London where a dastardly crime is committed.

Whilst all three cast members are highly talented and work beautifully as a team, Catrine Kirkman is perhaps the most impressive, if only because her voice has a range that enables her to sing both contralto and soprano roles. Amongst the multitude of parts that she plays, both male and female, her sense of the absurd quickly communicates itself to the audience, safely socially distanced at the Pleasance Theatre. She is also able to sing off the words so that they always make sense and seem to come from within her persona, for example, “Braid the Raven Hair” and Lady Jane’s song from Patience which, for a change, have real pathos as the lyrics are given equal value to the music.

Matthew Kellett, in the “Poirot” role, is also highly successful, especially singing G and S in English with a French accent. Physically he is always watchable, particularly when moving smoothly around the stage on wheels! (Go to see him and you will understand what I mean!) His diction is particularly good, and the ‘patter’ songs are slowed down slightly so that, as with Catrine Kirkman, the words always make sense!

The train’s guard (these days “train manager”) plus many other passengers on the train, all of whom seem to come from different G and S works, is Philip Lee. Although his diction is not always quite as clear as the others, he has a very expressive face and has great energy in his multitude of roles, especially perhaps as Edwin (Trial By Jury) or is he supposed to be Nanki Poo (The Mikado)? We shall never know!

The piano is enthusiastically played by David Eaton, and John Savournin’s direction has terrific energy, as befits his script/libretto. Jessie Huckin is responsible for the simple but inventive design.

All in all a wonderful, uplifting, life-affirming evening, set off by the superb front-of-house staff at The Pleasance, who make the auditorium seem very Covid secure and go overboard to be as helpful as possible: nothing seems to be too much trouble!

Whether or not you know your G and S, you will find this a hugely enjoyable evening’s entertainment – and just the right length: it leaves you wanting more! Highly recommended – only one stop from King’s Cross on the Tube, then five minutes walk! GO!

5 Stars

Review by John Groves

The masters of G&S in small spaces” present this brand new, side-splitting spoof of the classic railway mystery. A trio of intriguing travellers (and a pianist) take on multiple characters, uncover clue upon red herring, while ripping through the G&S operettas with a cake soaked butter knife, all aboard the G&S Express. Get ready to be swept away on this Topsy-turvy journey – from Penzance to Titipu, from Venice to the Tower of London, from Portsmouth to Fairyland – in a brand new story packed with references from every single G&S operetta. This highly inventive, witty murder mystery spoof is splattered with favourite songs from the Savoy operas including ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, ‘The Mikado’ and ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’, as well as from those less performed, such as ‘The Sorcerer,’ ‘Princess Ida’ and ‘Utopia Ltd’. All aboard the G&S Express – destination: Murder!

Express G&S cast: Matthew Kellett, Catrine Kirkman and Philip Lee.

Charles Court Opera
present ‘EXPRESS G&S’
The complete works of Gilbert & Sullivan – in 75 minutes!

Carpenters Mews, North Road,
London N7 9EF
Box Office: 020 7609 1800

Wednesday 23rd June 2021 at 7:30pm – Press Night
Thursday 24th June 2021 at 7:30pm
Friday 25th June 2021 at 7:30pm
Wednesday 30th June 2021 at 7:30pm
Thursday 1st July 2021 at 7:30pm
Friday 2nd July 2021 at 7:30pm
Duration: 75 mins

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