Words by W.S. Gilbert and Music by Arthur Sullivan
Nuffield Theatre,
June 2010
Director: David Rayner
Cast List
King Paramount
Scaphio (Campbell)
Phantis (Mandelson)
Boom d'Aye
The Grand Bong of Baclava
Cat Astrophokles
Captain Fitzbattleaxe
Lord Dramaleigh
Sir Captain Corcoran K.C.B.
Mr Goldbury
Sir Bailey Barre QC, MP
Mr Blushington
Princess Zara
Princess Nekaya
Princess Kalyba
The Lady Sophy
Phylia (Friday)

Notes on this performance

113. Utopia, Limited

A traumatic production…

The Committee was split on performing Utopia, Limited. Adam Case had warned that it was a sub-standard piece and would be a disaster at the box office but others were keen to stage the rare opera and also to complete their ‘G&S set’. Initially David Tatnall had volunteered to direct but, on further consideration, withdrew his offer and suggested leading a complete rewrite of Orpheus instead. David Rayner came to the rescue on the condition that he could also audition for one of the many minor principal roles and Nigel Finch (who knew the show well) agreed to act as MD – an appearance at the Buxton International G&S festival was even booked.

It all started so well. The auditions resulted in Colin Sly being awarded the part of King Paramount, his son (Jason) was Captain Fitzbattleaxe, daughter-in-law (Sam) Princes Zara, grand-daughter (Ellen) Phylla, grandson (Dominic) Calynx’s assistant and Jan, his wife, was still Wardrobe Mistress. It seemed that SOS actually stood for Sly Operatic Society! Colin was really proud and happy but then he collapsed at a table tennis match and died. The Society was in turmoil and there were doubts that the production (and possibly the group itself) could continue. 

David and Nigel persuaded Alan Witherby from Christchurch Operatic Society to take over as the King (a part he had played several times before) and he proved to be an accomplished deputy and a very willing member of the company. And then he had a heart attack. He spent months in intensive care but, sadly, did not survive – his funeral took place on the same day of the Buxton performance. David tried all of his connections to find a third King and eventually Mike Pavitt came to the rescue.

It was amazing that Utopia, Limited ever got on the stage, so the cast was disappointed by the lukewarm review in the Echo: ‘There were some good individual performances from the cast, with some robust singing from King Paramount (Mike Pavitt) and Princess Zara (Samantha Sly) and coy yet mischievous interplay between the younger sisters, Princess Nekaya (Alison Vincent) and Princess Kalyba (Lisa Axworthy). The ensemble also produced a pleasing sound, especially in the unaccompanied “Eagle High”, but many of the openings were not as crisp as one would like.

There were some interesting updates but the audience failed to appreciate the humour as they struggled to hear some of the lines and fathom out the plot. The set and lighting worked well, as did the costumes and effects. This version was a brave attempt to unravel a little-performed show, but I have to conclude that it is rarely performed for a good reason.’ The NODA report was far more enthusiastic and, although it overlooked the somewhat erratic orchestra, it did show appreciation for the reworking of the Minstrel Song: ‘The Morris dancing was brilliant. I can’t remember when I last laughed so much in a theatre.’ 

Utopia, Limited sold well to begin with but then ticket sales fell away alarmingly, leaving an eventual loss of £1840. The moral of the venture must be ‘Always listen to Adam!’  

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Grand Exploder

David Rayner (Tarara) and Terry O'Farrell (Calynx)

Photo of Princesses

Lisa Axworthy (Princess Kalyba) and Alison Vincent (Princess Nakaya) with Timothy Case

Photo of Troops

Jason Sly (Captain Fitzbattleaxe) with his men (Peter Hill, Tony Austin, Mike Allum, Brian Quantrill) watched by Sam Sly (Princess Zara) and George Vincent (Cat Astropholdes)

Photo o Morris Dancers

The Morris Dancers - Jason Sly (Captain Fitzbattleaxe), Ralph Bateman (Sir Bailey Barre), Mark Allen (Sir Captain Corcoran), Steve Young (Lord Dramaleigh), Matthew Pike (Mr Blushington), Paul Webb (Mr Goldbury)

Photo of Villains 

Philip de Grouchy (Scaphio/Campbell), David Rayner (Tarara), Samuel Webb (Boom d'Aye), Jonathan Fulcher (Phantis/Mandelson)

Photo of King

Mike Pavitt (King Paramount) and Victoria Luke (The Lady Sophy)