Gilbert and Sullivan's Improbable New Musical: The Fringe Lozenge

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Improbable New Musical: The Fringe Lozenge has, as you might expect from the title, a very specific target audience. That is, anyone who is both a Gilbert and Sullivan devotee and seasoned Fringe-goer. The point of the show is essentially to amuse the audience with a loving parody of G&S operettas and make fun of the Fringe while doing so. In this, it succeeds admirably.

An easy show to recommend to lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The convoluted plot follows two theatre companies at the Fringe dealing with strange flat leases, forbidden love, incompetent reviewers, parental expectations, foundling children and terrible magic shows. It is all very good fun; witty and self-referential in exactly the right way. The companies get hold of a magical lozenge that makes bad shows seem like great shows. There are mix-ups and love troubles galore, and everything is resolved in a single song. In a charming, but underused device, Gilbert and Sullivan themselves (played by Norman Hockley and Chris Higgins) frame the show, Gilbert pitching the show to a sceptical Sullivan, and both then providing vocal support for the duration.

Fair warning, many of the jokes will be lost on those not familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan. The show relied heavily on the comic subversion of well-known tunes through banal lyrics about the less glamorous elements of the Fringe. Unfortunately, tuning was a major issue throughout. Elizabeth Fenner and Daniel Grooms were the show’s redeemers, vocally very strong and with top-notch characterisation. Opening the show as a comedy duo of scene-changers with a harebrained flat-letting scheme, they continued to delight in each of their roles. Piano accompaniment from Becky Norton was similarly flawless. Unfortunately, this served to highlight the weakness of other cast members, who just weren’t up to scratch.

Performed with a large ensemble and chorus, The Fringe Lozenge has the potential to be a fantastic show. In its current format, it is still very enjoyable, but the absence of the traditional G&S maximalist aesthetic was noticeable. Simply put, it needed proper large-scale operetta staging to do it justice. Nevertheless, it is an easy show to recommend to lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan. 

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The Blurb

This is the show that Gilbert and Sullivan might have written, if the Fringe (and the term 'musical') had been around in their day. Set at the Edinburgh Fringe, two companies go to extreme lengths to secure good reviews. The plot includes the usual Gilbertian elements: an abandoned baby, sense of duty, love across ranks and an implausible, contrived finale. Unusual flat-sharing arrangements and a magic lozenge complete the picture. All-new lyrics, set to Sullivan's music (featuring music from all the operettas), are accompanied by the usual quota of silly dances.

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