This production took place in the delightful Devonshire Park Theatre in the centre of Eastbourne. It is a "Matcham" theatre designed by Henry Currey, built in 1884 and further improved by celebrated Theatre Architect Frank Matcham in 1903. Frank Matcham also, amongst many others, designed the Opera House in Buxton where the annual International Gilbert & Sullivan Festivals take place.
We were just about the first in and soon found our seats - right in the middle of the front row of the dress circle - here you see Alan, Bruce (who had come over from Melbourne, Australia, to see this production) and Di. Note that, unlike the Opera House in Buxton, there are pillars in the dress circle - one of which can be seen just to the right of Di, which restrict the view. Buxton is much better than this for a clear view. The upper circle does not have this problem. The reason is probably that the upper circle is much deeper than that at Buxton and so needs the extra support.
The theatre does not have an orchestra pit and so the orchestra was seated just in front of the stage between it and the first row of the stalls. It was cut off by a screen but there was so little room that the double bass had to take the left hand box and the percussion took the right hand one.
The safety curtain at the Devonshire Park is excellent - it depicts scenes from Eastbourne in the Victorian/Edwardian era.
There was a sparkling overture played with great enthusiasm by the orchestra - the MD was excellent and had everyone, soloists, chorus and musicians, in full control at all times - she was most sympathetic and encouraging to the singers at all times.
The tabs were lifted to show us the "standard" piazzetta in Venice. It looked very familiar and then I realised from the programme that it was supplied by Paul Lazell who also provides sets for the Festival. The ladies chorus looked very colourful in their excellent costumes. As they sang they were binding together small bunches of red and white roses. It was characteristic of an Alistair Donkin production that the chorus had been given lots to do - they were wandering here and there, obviously under his direction but with very little reason to do so. One obvious feature was just how much they were enjoying the performance - this was kept up all through the production - it was full of smiling faces. The soloists from the chorus were not very strong and this was also echoed with the men's chorus. The men had good costumes and were also very busy. Much play was made at the small cafe table to the front right of the stage - with a very active waiter.
The entrance of Marco and Giuseppe lifted the production - they were full of energy and confidence. Giuseppe in particular was perhaps the best performer in the whole production - both his acting and singing were first class. Marco was played by Barry Clark who had been in the D'Oyly Carte and had filled in on the role for them on occasion. He was quite good but did not seem to be fully aware as to what was going on at all times. He also struggled a little with some of the higher notes.
After some fun the two gondoliers end up with their girls. These were both well played and Tessa and Gianetta were full of confidence and enthusiasm. The stage emptied and the Duke and his party arrived on a gondola at the rear of the stage. They had good costumes depicting style which was now a little shabby. The Duke was a typical patter man - thin and energetic and he threw himself into the role. It was spoilt a little by the fact that he was too quiet and we had difficulty in hearing his lines - both the spoken and the sung. The Duchess was very clear and sang delightfully. Casilda had a major problem - the director! He had asked to to have two speech impediments which I found most annoying - this poor actress did her best but after a while it really grated. When she sang she abandoned the lisp, etc. and how she improved. Please Alistair forget this silly idea! Luiz worked hard but he seemed very unsure of himself - he did not project, either in his spoken dialogue or his singing and he had this annoying habit of looking down at the stage all the time.
The Duke and his party had some great fun seated at a table at the front right of the stage. The Duke and Duchess were dining on spaghetti and how he went at it - great mountains of the stuff were devoured in no time.
The grand inquisitor was good - he had a fine voice and clear diction - although again the director made a mistake by making him too lecherous. He has good fun with Marco and Giuseppe as he explains the situation. Some good topical jokes here as they ask if they can give out peerages for loans!!! and also the misdemeanors of the deputy prime minister were not forgotten. A good quartet "Then one of us will be a Queen" .
The men prepare to go to Barataria and say farewell to their wives and girlfriends, who are not allowed on the island and the first act closed as brightly as it had started.