The Grand Duke
WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
This is the first fully-staged professional UK production of The Grand Duke since its premiere in 1896. The Finborough was sold out before the opening night and has had to add two extra matinees and these are sold out, too. There is clearly an audience out there for a little-known operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan.
There is a very good reason for the lack of professional revivals. The show was never popular in its day with either the public or the critics. The book is terrible. The plot is boring: a troupe of actors takes control of a duchy and their leading actor becomes Duke and finds he is engaged to four women. The dialogue is laboured and the satire isn’t funny. Gilbert didn’t think it was any good, either. “I am not at all a proud mother,” he said, “and I never want to see this ugly misshapen little brat again.”
Gilbert and Sullivan had not been on good terms since 1890. Sullivan didn’t enjoy the rehearsal period and wrote in his diary: “Another week’s rehearsal with WSG and I should have gone raving mad.” The production ran for only 123 performances. The failure of The Grand Duke (their only financial failure) ended their partnership which had begun in 1871. They never spoke to each other again.
Sullivan’s score is tuneful. The cast (most of them highly experienced in G&S) certainly sing out. There are 19 actors on stage at one point which means things are a bit cramped and over-crowded and the mugging is in your face.
The Grand Duke is strictly a collector’s item; but even diehard G&S fans may never want to collect it again.
Reviewer: Robert Tanitch