BWW Reviews: UTOPIA (LIMITED), Greenwich Theatre, November 7 2012
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by Gary Naylor
Utopia (Limited) is not one of Gilbert and Sullivan's more frequently produced operas, but it's hard to see why it's neglected. It's a hoot from beginning to end, with all the G&S character types on parade in full fig, some great tunes (even some familiar ones, with a little Pinafore and Rule Britannia! in the mix) and, somewhat surprisingly, a plot that could come straight out of a radical comic's routine.
Dazzled by Great Britain's er... greatness, the ruler of the idyllic island kingdom of Utopia sends his eldest daughter, Zara, to Girton College Cambridge, from whence she returns with a posse of soldiers, sailors and petty bureaucrats who proceed to bestow the benefits of Britain's "advanced" social, legal and military expertise on the hitherto happy Utopians. Meanwhile, the King's younger daughters are being schooled by Lady Sophy, whose ideas on the demure qualities of English gentlewomen are somewhat severe. While all this cultural imperialism is going on - and the joke is on the Brits from start to finish - the King is being blackmailed by a couple of scheming advisers who have problems enough squabbling over Zara's hand. But she is a woman with ideas of her own on that score.
While pomposity is pricked and gentle cleverness outwits foolish flummery, there's a harder edge to the bashing of the celebrity-obsessed Press, the compulsive venality of bankers and the risk-free investment vehicle that is the Limited Company. 120 years ago, people laughed at the incorporation of a kingdom and all the individuals who lived there - so it's tragedy that is comedy plus time, rather than the other way round.
The Centenary Company (at Greenwich Theatre until 10 November) have assembled a fine cast of singers, a wonderful orchestra and some truly stunning costumes for this production in which everyone (on stage and in the stalls) has the most wonderful time. If some of the voices are a little lost in the big auditorium and if some of the acting isn't quite as razor-sharp as one would expect from a professional ensemble, well, there's plenty enough love of performing to cover that. And, more than anything else, there's the glorious melodies and dazzling lyrics of the two (by this time) ageing masters - Gilbert and Sullivan. And how can you not like that?