You are here: Archive Home > Gondoliers > "Punch" Review
"Punch" Review

The following review appeared in the 4 January 1890 edition of Punch magazine. It was submitted to the Archive by David Cookson.


Messrs. GILBERT AND SULLIVAN'S Gondoliers deserves to rank immediately after The Mikado and Pinafore bracketed. The mise-en-scène is in every way about as perfect as it is possible to be. Every writer of libretti, every dramatist and every composer, must envy the two Savoyards, their rare opportunities of putting their own work on their own stage, and being like the two Kings in this piece, jointly and equally monarchs of all they survey, though, unlike these two potentates, they are not their subjects' servants, and have only to consider what is best for the success of their piece, and to have it carried out, whatever it is, regardless of expense. And what does their work amount to ? Simply a Two-Act Opera, to play two-hours-and-a-half, for the production of which they have practically a whole year at their disposal. They can go as near commanding success as is given to mortal dramatist and composer, and for any comparative failure they can have no-one to blame but themselves, the pair of them.

Whatever the piece may be, it is always a pleasure to see how thoroughly the old hands at the Savoy enter into "the fun of the thing", and, as in the case of Miss JESSIE BOND and Mr RUTLAND BARRINGTON, absolutely carry the audience with them by sheer exuberance of spirits.

Mr RUTLAND BARRINGTON possesses a ready wit and keen appreciation of humour; and as this is true also of Miss JESSIE BOND, the couple, being thoroughly in their element with such parts as The Gondoliers provide for them, legitimately graft their own fun on the plentiful stock already supplied by the author, and are literally the life and soul of the piece.

On the night I was there a Miss NORAH PHYLLIS took Miss ULMAR'S part of Gianetta, and played it, at short notice, admirably. She struck me as bearing a marked facial resemblance to Miss FORTESQUE, and is a decided acquisition. Mr DENNY, as the Grand Inquisitor (a part that recalls the Lord High Chancellor of the ex-Savoyard, GEORGE GROSSMITH, now entertaining "on his own hook"), doesn't seem to be a born Savoyard, "non nascitur" and "non fit" at present. Good he is, of course, but there's no spontaneity about him. However, for an eccentric comedian merely to do exactly what he is told, and nothing more, yet to do that, little or much, well, is a performance that would meet with Hamlet's approbation, and Mr GILBERT'S. Mr FRANK WYATT, as "the new boy" at the Savoy School, doesn't, as yet, seem quite happy; but it cannot be expected that he should feel "quite at home," when he has only recently arrived at a new school.
Miss BRANDRAM is a thorough Savoyard; "nihil tetigit quod non ornavit", and her embroidery of a part which it is fair to suppose was written to suit her, is done in her own quaint and quiet fashion.

A fantastically and humorous peculiarly Gilbertian idea is a comparison between a visit to the dentist's, and an interview with the questioners by the rack, suggested by the Grand Inquisitor, Don ALHAMBRA, who says that the nurse is waiting in the torture-chamber, but that there is no hurry for him to go and examine her, as she is all right and "has all the illustrated papers".

There are ever so many good things in the Opera, but the best of all, for genuinely humorous inpiration of words, music and acting, is the quartette in the Second Act, "In a contemplative fashion". It is excellent. Thank goodness, encores are discouraged, except where there can be "No possible sort [sic] of doubt, No possible doubt whatever" (also a capital song in this piece) as to the unanimity of the enthusiasm. There is nothing in the music which catches the ear on a first hearing as did "The Three Little Maids" or "I've got a Song to Sing O!" but it is all charming, and the masterly orchestration in its fulness and variety is something that the least technically educated can appreciate and enjoy. The piece is so brilliant to eye and ear, that there is never a dull moment on the stage or off it. It is just one of those simple Bab Ballady stories which, depending for its success not on any startling surprise in the plot, but on general excellence, may, especially on account of the music, be safely put down on the play-goer's list for "a second hearing".


Updated 10 December 2003