Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


The 1975 D'Oyly Carte Centenary Performances

9.1 - Reminiscences and thoughts on the 1975 D'Oyly Carte performances

David Cookson: I was actually in the 1975 D'OC production of Utopia, both at the Savoy and also later on that summer at the Festival Hall.

At the time I was repetiteur with the D'OC. One of the ways I had of boosting my income was to take on the roles of "supernumerary" - I was a Marine in Pinafore, and I was given a walk-on part on Utopia - I was the punkah-wallah who followed Lyndsey Holland around, catching her date-stones on a plate. I also played the piano - offstage - for the opening of Trial by Jury on the centenary night.

The main memory I have of the centenary fortnight was my debut as conductor - less than auspicious. Our percussionist, Gerry, had been ill for a long time, and made his comeback on centenary night. Royston Nash and Glyn Hale (MD and chorus master) were to go on stage to take their bows, along with Bridget D'OC and Harold Wilson (the then PM, and a G & S fan), amongst others. It fell to me to conduct at the end, firstly Auld Lang Syne and then the National Anthem. I had rehearsed and rehearsed, in my mind, the upbeat for Auld Land Syne, and all the band and company had been told what would happen. All except Gerry.

When I gave the upbeat for Auld Lang Syne, Gerry thought to rescue me by giving the drum-roll for the National Anthem. My world fell slowly apart. Half the audience started to stand up, and half the band, taking their cue from Gerry, started to play the National Anthem. The other half started into Auld Lang Syne, and what followed sounded like a Charles Ives seminar.

Harold Wilson looked alternately nostalgic and patriotic, the company looked confused, and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me, a la John Wellington Wells. I was 20 at the time, and I had just made an almighty cock-up of my big chance.

Does anyone else remember this ?

David Duffey: I do. Thanks for the memory. At the time I thought it a very gentle dig at the Tyrone Guthrie Pinafore just after the copyright lapsed. That production was in the theatre in Haymarket which Phantom of the Opera is at now. The timp started a national anthem roll, waited until all the audience was up, then began the Pinafore overture. Someone earlier has said that the occasion (DOC centenary) was a gathering of the G&S clans - about right; the nearest analogy I have is to an International at Twickers, where one bumps into people one half knows all the time and everyone has a common interest.

Harriet Meyer: Evidently, it caught on! In 1982 (?) we saw a revue in London about a musical comedy team a la Gallagher & Sheehan, starring Christopher Timothy. Before curtain, the orchestra launched into God Save the Queen. As up we rose, they switched abruptly out of God Save the Queen and into a rousing oompah passage--laughs, blushes, and down we all went again.

Ed Glazier: I was fortunate enough to attend the D'Oyly Carte Centenary Festival in London in 1975 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the opening of Trial By Jury. DOC did all the extent G & S shows in chronological sequence at the Savoy Theatre, including a fully staged Utopia and a concert Grand Duke. Trial appeared as a curtain raiser both to Sorcerer and to Pinafore and also as an after-piece to the closing night Grand Duke, with an expanded public and jury, consisting of many former DOC members.

I would imagine it was the first time that most in attendance had ever seen Utopia. The cast was more or less identical to the DOC recording that was issued shortly thereafter (my recording and theatre program are at home, so I can't compare the casts). I believe that any musical cuts taken on the recording were used in performance. I can't speak to cuts in the dialogue, since I was not familiar with the libretto when I saw the show and I certainly don't remember now.

Standouts were Kenneth Sandford as Paramount, Pamela Field as Zara, and the late Meston Reid as Fitzbattleaxe. If you have seen the cover of the American pressing of the LP issue or photographs in various books, you may recall that the impression given by the sets and costumes was more "middle-Eastern/sub-Saharan Africa" instead of "South Sea Island", or such is my recollection 20 plus years later. As I recall, at least Sandford as Paramount wore a very dark-toned face and body makeup. Perhaps I assumed this was meant to be Africa mostly because of the solar toupee worn by Lyndsie Holland as Lady Sophy. The setting for Act I included a striped awning extending over an upstage entrance and a stuffed camel(?) that was used as a seat.

Recent discussions of the score have included suggestions that "First you're born" be cut. While the number in itself is perhaps not brilliant, the staging in this production was brilliant and included the camel, and led to a much-deserved encore of, I believe, the third verse. (I only wish I could have remembered this staging when I played Paramount for the Stanford Savoyards a few years ago!)

The only other specific number that I can recall off the top of my head was the minstrel number. I suspect this generated the same sensation in 1975 as it had in its Savoy Theatre debut in the 1890s. Since most of the audience was probably unfamiliar with the show, they did not expect the banjos and tambourines that are part of the traditional staging of this number. The number brought the house down and the third verse was given two well-warranted encores.

(Certain numbers in the rest of the canon were given "traditional" encores, whether warranted by the audience response or not, such as the 5 or so for the 3rd verse of the Pinafore "Bell Trio").

In performance by D'Oyly Carte, then, for a group of G & S aficionados, Utopia Limited was an unqualified success. The flaws in the show were subordinated to a particular clever staging and perhaps the sense of "an event" helped, too, since this was the first D'OC London staging of Utopia since the original production.

Marc Shepherd: Ed Glazier mentioned that, whatever the opera's warts may be, the D'Oyly Carte centenary production caused a sensation and was rapturously received by its audiences. I wasn't there, but Ed's recollections certainly are consistent with others I've heard. A few things need to be pointed out. This production was only given, in London, about five or six times. Naturally, all the tickets were snapped up by the G&S inner brotherhood, who made up virtually all of the audience. We'll never know the production would have fared as an ongoing repertory offering.

It is indicative of the incompetence in D'Oyly Carte management of the time that only ONE performance of this production was originally scheduled. When they realized they had a hit on their hands, several more were scheduled. But, it was never taken on tour, which I have always believed was a mistake.

Page created 18 January 1999