Gilbert and Sullivan: gender, genre, parody by Carolyn Williams
A couple of weeks ago I saw UPDMS perform Ruddygore (or The Witch’s Curse) at the Theatre Royal in Portsmouth. It was a trip down memory lane for me. Thirty years ago I was Zorah, the Chief (professional) Bridesmaid in the Portsmouth Polytechnic Dramatic and Musical Society production in Park Building. I still have the photographs to prove it! I doubt any of the students performing this time round were even born in 1986. Our Director of Music, Colin Jagger, had re-instated some cut material together with the original spelling of Ruddygore after a lukewarm reception on the opening night by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company at the Savoy Theatre in London on 22 January 1887.
So – fresh with the much-loved ditties ringing in my ears I have decided to review a book about the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. G&S is a bit like Marmite, you either love ’em or hate ’em. Their songs and choruses — mostly light and comedic (unlike operas) are interspersed with spoken dialogue. These light operas were known as operettas and were the forerunners of our modern musicals. Though over a century old, the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are as fresh today as the day they were written. Gilbert may have chosen specific aspects of Victorian society for his satire, but his wit is as relevant now as it ever was: “I always voted at my party’s call / And I never thought of thinking for myself at all,” sings Sir Joseph Porter in Pinafore, but the lines could as easily belong to most modern politicians.
In Gilbert and Sullivan: gender, genre, parody, Carolyn Williams has given us a scholarly study that covers many themes including: the history of nineteenth century comic theatre, Victorian feminism and sexual mores, the nature of parody and burlesque, the dramatic use of choruses, political satire, Wagnerism in England and the Aesthetic movement. Long before Private Eye, the comic operas of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were the hottest send-ups of the day’s political and cultural obsessions. Williams examines the use of magic in The Sorcerer, the parody of nautical melodrama in H.M.S.Pinafore, the ridicule of Victorian aesthetic and idyllic poetry in Patience, the ethnography of The Mikado, the role of gender in Trial by Jury and the theme of illegitimacy in The Pirates of Penzance.
You will find Gilbert and Sullivan: gender, genre, parody in the library catalogue here. And find more books about the famous musical duo here. If you would like to listen to some of the music from their operettas visit Naxos Music Library here. Find more TV and radio programmes relating to Gilbert and Sullivan on Box of Broadcasts (BoB). For more performing arts resources see the My Subject pages. For those of you who like The Mikado and a fascinating glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ of a production you would be very pushed to find anything better than Mike Leigh’s film Topsy Turvy.
For a bit of fun try this spoof from The Two Ronnies. Ooer…