As a lesser-known work, Utopia is generally considered hard to sell. In Buxton? Standing room only! With a superb lineup of principals, and the name "G&S Opera Co" on the heading, it promised to be rather excellent. And based on anecdotal evidence, extrapolating out from known data, and doing all those other horribly unscientific things, I deduce that 100% of audience members enjoyed the show.
Naturally, given the setting of the piece, the lighting was strong. Even the second act, set in the evening, was brightly lit - certainly far more than your average G&S night scene. The usual darkish corners of the stage were notably absent; whereever people went, they were illuminated. The set gave the appearance that we were in a largely wooden area, with a beach behind; although the semi-circular pieces could easily have been wheels of Dutch smoked cheese. Yes, I have a weird mind. But you knew that already!
As I said, a most promising lineup of names in the cast. Rebecca Bottone being still medically disqualified from singing, the part of Princess Nekaya was instead played by Beverley Werboys. She and her sister Kalyba (Catrine Kirkman), as very English schoolgirls, had lovely voices that unfortunately had trouble competing with the orchestra at times; otherwise, both were fun characters, particularly with their somewhat middle-aged suitors Dramaleigh (Barry Clark) and Goldbury (Bruce Graham). The contrast between the genuine English and the attempted Englishness created an entertaining tension, and never better than in the Drawing Room scene. The six Flowers of Progress (the aforementioned, plus Fitzbattleaxe (Oliver White), Corcoran (Stephen Godward), Bailey Barre (Martin Milnes), and Blushington (Simon Theobald)), in remodelling Utopia, were at once individual characters and a chorus; the latter being most notable in Society Has Quite Forsaken, in which six Flowers and King Paramount (Donald Maxwell) made a seven-person chorus of extreme precision but for the one who was always late - six Flowers moving in perfect synchronization, and the King eyeing them and doing his best to follow. The same was true of the First Lifeguards; one was always just one beat behind the others, although in that instance it may not have been for deliberate effect. But oh, such care they took of the Princess Zara (Deborah Norman) - delivering her to her father in an excellent condition of substantial and decorative repair - although I daresay stealing her heart doesn't quite come under "reasonable wear and tear". Her love duet with Fitzbattleaxe was beautifully sweet, though a trifle low - hard to hear them over the orchestra at times - and a lovely contrast to the comic ridiculousness of A Tenor All Singers Above, but handled just as well. It's no surprise that Zara's sisters were sent away from this pair; Lady Sophy (Jill Pert) would not have approved of such terrors on the high C's! A conscientious chaperone and dutiful governess, she had reason to be proud of her well-behaved charges; but more interesting was her relationship to the King, as we watch her understanding dawn in that second act scene where the truth comes out. (Oh so THAT'S why you didn't boil the author on the spot.) How disconcerting to have been one of the Wise Men, Scaphio (Simon Butteriss) and Phantis (Ian Belsey) - to be so thoroughly thwarted and so easily! Two comic geniuses, playing off each other both in character and out of character, with brilliant timing on their lines; and with the skill and stagecraft to know when to wait for the applause or laughter to die down before continuing. This was particularly noteworthy in the dialogue with the King, in which Scaphio pointed out that the editors of the Palace Peeper were being flogged publicly - which paused several times while we expressed our appreciation of the lines! But perhaps even funnier was the Public Exploder, Tarara (Richard Gauntlett), whose bang snaps sometimes didn't all go off - several times, one went off under someone's foot, several scenes later! Ah, life in Utopia could not be boring...
It's said that it's better to go out with a bang than a whimper. In more ways than one, the final show of the 2011 Festival (I'm being naughty and not counting the Pirates tomorrow night - it's the same Pirates that was performed at the beginning of the Festival) is closing with a bang.