An all-male cast drop anchor and don dresses for silliness on the high seas (and higher D flats)
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When preparing this hilarious sit-com with patter songs the director's predicament appears to have been something like this: an English touring company has to perform one of Arthur Sullivan's weaker operas without opera singers; with no orchestra, only a piano; without altering the dated Victorian libretto; without the usual colourful costumes; and with no women. "You see what I'm working with here?" was a rare ad-lib that escaped after a particularly risible detail of WS Gilbert's preposterously contrived libretto.
But director Sasha Regan embraces thoughtfully and completely every ludicrous premise in the plot and turns each the necessities above into delightful virtues, by putting her fine actors into the guise of a boarding school or PoW production. Without any camp the all-male cast makes the mixed group scenes amazingly funny, and the formerly ludicrous love duet where Frederick and Mabel agree to wait for each other for 63 years ("It seems so long") becomes strangely touching, especially in our current period of debate about the entitlement to marry. A sociologist might try to dissect whether we're laughing at or with Gilbert, gays, or English ways, but who cares? It's just a hoot.