The following review appeared in the 4 January 1890 edition of Punch magazine. It was submitted to the Archive by David Cookson.
Messrs. GILBERT AND SULLIVAN'S Gondoliers
deserves to rank immediately
after The Mikado
bracketed. The mise-en-scène is in every way
about as perfect as it is possible to be. Every writer of libretti, every
dramatist and every composer, must envy the two Savoyards, their rare
opportunities of putting their own work on their own stage, and being like
the two Kings in this piece, jointly and equally monarchs of all they
survey, though, unlike these two potentates, they are not their subjects'
servants, and have only to consider what is best for the success of their
piece, and to have it carried out, whatever it is, regardless of expense.
And what does their work amount to ? Simply a Two-Act Opera, to play
two-hours-and-a-half, for the production of which they have practically a
whole year at their disposal. They can go as near commanding success as is
given to mortal dramatist and composer, and for any comparative failure
they can have no-one to blame but themselves, the pair of them.
Whatever the piece may be, it is always a pleasure to see how thoroughly
the old hands at the Savoy enter into "the fun of the thing", and, as in
the case of Miss JESSIE BOND and Mr RUTLAND BARRINGTON, absolutely carry
the audience with them by sheer exuberance of spirits.
Mr RUTLAND BARRINGTON possesses a ready wit and keen appreciation of
humour; and as this is true also of Miss JESSIE BOND, the couple, being
thoroughly in their element with such parts as The Gondoliers provide for
them, legitimately graft their own fun on the plentiful stock already
supplied by the author, and are literally the life and soul of the piece.
On the night I was there a Miss NORAH PHYLLIS took Miss ULMAR'S part of
Gianetta, and played it, at short notice, admirably. She struck me as
bearing a marked facial resemblance to Miss FORTESQUE, and is a decided
acquisition. Mr DENNY, as the Grand Inquisitor (a part that recalls the
Lord High Chancellor of the ex-Savoyard, GEORGE GROSSMITH, now entertaining
"on his own hook"), doesn't seem to be a born Savoyard, "non nascitur" and
"non fit" at present. Good he is, of course, but there's no spontaneity
about him. However, for an eccentric comedian merely to do exactly what he
is told, and nothing more, yet to do that, little or much, well, is a
performance that would meet with Hamlet's approbation, and Mr GILBERT'S.
Mr FRANK WYATT, as "the new boy" at the Savoy School, doesn't, as yet, seem
quite happy; but it cannot be expected that he should feel "quite at home,"
when he has only recently arrived at a new school.
Miss BRANDRAM is a thorough Savoyard; "nihil tetigit quod non ornavit", and
her embroidery of a part which it is fair to suppose was written to suit
her, is done in her own quaint and quiet fashion.
A fantastically and humorous peculiarly Gilbertian idea is a comparison
between a visit to the dentist's, and an interview with the questioners by
the rack, suggested by the Grand Inquisitor, Don ALHAMBRA, who says that
the nurse is waiting in the torture-chamber, but that there is no hurry for
him to go and examine her, as she is all right and "has all the illustrated
There are ever so many good things in the Opera, but the best of all, for
genuinely humorous inpiration of words, music and acting, is the quartette
in the Second Act, "In a contemplative fashion". It is excellent. Thank
goodness, encores are discouraged, except where there can be "No possible
sort [sic] of doubt, No possible doubt whatever" (also a capital song in
this piece) as to the unanimity of the enthusiasm. There is nothing in the
music which catches the ear on a first hearing as did "The Three Little
Maids" or "I've got a Song to Sing O!" but it is all charming, and the
masterly orchestration in its fulness and variety is something that the
least technically educated can appreciate and enjoy. The piece is so
brilliant to eye and ear, that there is never a dull moment on the stage or
off it. It is just one of those simple Bab Ballady stories which,
depending for its success not on any startling surprise in the plot, but on
general excellence, may, especially on account of the music, be safely put
down on the play-goer's list for "a second hearing".