THE SORCERER PLOT
From the book "The Plain Old Man" by Charlotte MacLeod
The mystery fans in our numbers are probably already famil
iar with the work of Charlotte MacLeod, a popular and fairly
prolific mystery writer. What they may or may not know is that
one of her latest books, "The Plain Old Man", is set during an
amateur production of The Sorcerer. Member Carol Lee Cole read
it recently (and enjoyed it, too), and sent the following excerpt
from the introduction, in which a (philistine!) spinster tries to
explain the plot of the opera to a relative. Once Carol Lee
stopped laughing so hard that she could talk again, she said the
MGS might enjoy it, too. Here it is, and we hope the Chicago G&S
Society will not be victimized with such a description before
Anyway, they (the amateurs) are up to their eyeballs with
the play, or comic opera as I believe those Gilbert & Sullivan
things are properly called. The plot, as far as I can make out,
deals with a boy and girl who are foolish enough to become
engaged to each other, and their parents (a widow and widower
respectively) who wish to be engaged but for some never-explained
reason are not.
There is also a silly young thing who is chasing after the
vicar, he being at least twice her age. She has a mother who is
listed on the program as a pew opener...
After the usual tiresome overture, a chorus of village men
and maidens (!!!) sing the usual sort of unintelligible nonsense
about how happy everybody is today because Aline (the girl) is
getting betrothed to Alexis (the boy). Then the pew opener and
her daughter come on looking as grumpy as we shall all, no doubt,
be feeling by then. The daughter (Constance) tells her mother
(Mrs. Partlett) that she is in love with the vicar, who doesn't
care for her. Needless to say, the vicar then appears, declaim
ing that the girls aren't chasing him any more now that he is old
and fat instead of young and handsome. The mother tries her hand
at matchmaking and fails, naturally, this being only the begin
ning of the show.
They go away, no doubt to everyone's relief . . . .
Alexis and his father (Sir Marmaduke) come on and are congratulated by the vicar (Dr. Daly) for quite some time. You know how
ministers run on. These three go away and on comes Aline with
the rest of the girls. She sings a song about marriage having
its disadvantages as well as its alleged advantages, as if one
had to be told. Then the mother (Lady Sangazure) and prospective
father-in-law (Sir Marmaduke) enter and they all sing a lot of
gibberish about one thing and another.
At last the lawyer appears with the bridal contract.
Instead of reading out the terms in a sane and sensible manner,
the young people go ahead and append their signatures to the
unread document, while the chorus stands around loudly applauding
this totally rash and senseless act.
Eventually they all leave the stage except Alexis and
Aline. Alexis expounds some ridiculous theory that everybody
ought to marry everybody else without distinction of rank.
Aline, like a besotted little ninny, agrees with him. He then
tells her he has resolved on obtaining a potion which will make
all those villagers who have shown a reluctance toward lawful
wedlock (though no doubt sufficient forwardness in other directions!) [Remember the source - Ed.] fall in love with one anoth
Aline protests, but of course he doesn't listen — men never
do — and they go off to one J. Wellington Wells, a sorcerer
(hence, I assume, the name of the production) to get the potion.
He subjects them to a lot of mumbojumbo, no doubt as an excuse to
jack up the price, then sells them the potion, which he puts into
a large teapot Alexis has brought with him. Alexis, mind you,
being the son of a baronet (Sir Marmaduke) — can you picture a
baronet's son carrying a large teapot, unwrapped, through the
streets of London? Perhaps this is meant to add a touch of
humour. [Perhaps this description mistake was meant to be one,
too - Ed.]
In any event, they take to pot to a tea party which Sir
Marmaduke . . . is giving to celebrate the betrothal. Too cheap
or too broke to buy champagne, I suppose — they always are, aren't
they? Alexis, who appears to have no moral principles whatsoever
(he being the hero, you will recall) tricks the vicar into making
tea in the aforementioned teapot and gets everybody to drink some
except himself, Aline, and the sorcerer, who has somehow wrangled
an invitation to the affair. At this point, mercifully, we have
(Afterward,) we go back to our seats, if we can find them,
and watch everybody wake up and fall in love. First the members
of the chorus conduct a sort of mass wooing, then Constance (the
pew opener's daughter, as you've most likely forgotten by now)
enters arm and arm with the lawyer, moaning that she has suddenly
lost her feeling for the vicar (which wasn't getting her anywhere
anyway) and fallen madly in love with this plain old man [the
actor playing the Notary is murdered in the course of the story,
thus the title of the book — Ed.] ...
Moving on less rapidly than one might wish, Constance
bewails her plight at quite at quite unreasonable length with
Alexis, Aline, and the chorus all getting into the act. Eventually Alexis and Aline are left alone. Alexis starts nagging at
Aline to drink the potion also and thus become his willing slave
for life (you will notice that HE never offers to drink it and
become HER willing slave!!! )[sic! — Ed.] During the ensuing
quarrel, Sir Marmaduke comes along engaged to the pew opener.
Lady Sangazure . . . falls in love with Mr. Wells (the sorcerer), who rejects her, he being the only one so far who's shown a
lick of sense despite his odd profession.
Then Aline drinks the potion, not in front of Alexis, which
would have been at least plausible, but just in time to meet Dr.
Daly (the vicar) who is wandering along playing a flageolet (a
penny whistle, in plainer terms) and complaining that everybody
is now engaged to somebody and nobody is left to marry him. At
that point he comes face-to-face with Aline and they fall in
Well, of course Alexis is furious at being jilted even
though he's brought it upon himself, and goes whining off to Mr.
Wells to undo the spell. It turns out that the only way this can
be done is for either Alexis or Wells to die. If you can make
sense of that, you will show greater acumen than I've ever found
cause to credit you with. Anyway, Wells gets thumbs-down form
the assemblage and disappears through the trapdoor, assuming it's
in working order this time.
At last all the couples switch around the get suitably
mated, another comic touch, one assumes, and sing something about
strawberry jam and rollicking buns. All this is supposed to add
up to a highly diverting evening. I shall take my knitting with
me. Yrs. aff., Mabel."
For the interested, (MacLeod, Charlotte, "The Plain Old Man." New
York: Doubleday, 1985) can easily be obtained from your public
library, and has recently been issued in paperback for $2.95, at
bookstores everywhere. As advertisers are wont to say this time
of year, "the perfect gift."
[This article appeared in Issue 9 (December 1986) of Precious
Nonsense, the newsletter of the Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan
Society. Posted by permission of Sarah Cole, Society Secretary/Archivist. For information on Society membership write to:
The Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan Society, c/o Miss Sarah Cole,
613 W. State St., North Aurora, IL 60542-1538.]
4 August, 2011