IT might be questionable at first but once you find out why director Ian Toyne decided to set The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA 1889 written production of The Gondoliers in the 1950s, it makes complete sense.
“The gondoliers were described as being the apple of the eye of every available woman in Venice; they all seem to be besotted by them,” Toyne said.
“It reminded me of the whole rock star thing and really the very first rock star image I could latch on to was Elvis.
“So I went for the era of Elvis which also happened to be around the time that Venice was coming back on to the world stage with fashion and so on.
“Every time I’ve thought about Venice, I’ve thought about style and certainly with the way the costumes have come together, the era is dead right for that sense of style.”
Likened to a Shakespearian comedy, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 12th comic opera features gondoliers Marco and Giuseppe and other outrageous characters, such as the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro.
The gondoliers are part of a republican movement against the monarchy in Venice.
“It turns out that one of them may well be the lost heir to the throne of the king,” Toyne said.
“There was a nurse who took one of them away at birth and they’re not quite sure which one of them might be the king. It’s typical farce where no one really knows what’s going on.”
The Gondoliers is Toyne’s inaugural production with The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA and despite his English background (he lived in Somerset before his father left the navy and his family moved to Perth) has not had much exposure to the turbulent theatrical partnership of dramatist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan.
“I’ve been working in professional musicals for about 25 to 30 years and when I was looking at the Gilbert and Sullivan project, I realised a lot of what Gilbert actually did was the precursor to the way the modern musical is staged,” Toyne, head of music theatre at Principal Academy of Dance and Theatre Arts in Leederville, said.
“I don’t feel in essence there’s really much difference because they’re both doing the same thing of telling a story with music.”
Taking on this directing role has resulted in the workplace hazard of Toyne getting the music stuck in his head and he often finds himself walking around humming and whistling the tunes.
“I reckon they’ll be humming and toe-tapping their way through the music too; it’s just infectious,” he said.
“There is so much wit in it, with a lot of comedy in the music and the text which is delightful, so the feeling is this frothy, effervescent, exuberant thing.
“I have an admiration for the piece that has so cleverly been put together. The music becomes the perfect setting for the lyrics and is glorious in its own right while supporting the comedy.”
What: The Gondoliers
Where: Dolphin Theatre, UWA
When: April 26 to May 5