GILBERT and Sullivan operas are as much a part of British culture as the Last Night of the Proms, but like that annual national hurrah they go in and out of fashion.
But they are invariably fun.
Now the Rosemary Branch Theatre, an artistic gem of North London, is hosting a small season of G and S, starting with a typically controversial one, The Mikado, performed by the Charles Court Opera (CCO) company.
In Loving Dalston’s old-fashioned view, the show’s approach is questionable: does it mock orientials to mark up imperialists?
Cecilia Darker, the theatre’s artistic co-director, is dismissive. “Pish-pish!” she says. “The Mikado has to be taken in context. It was written in 1885 and was phenomenally popular. Like all G and S operas, it satirises Victorian society; it is nothing about Japan and its people but all about the British.
“It survives is because it is a ludicrous story with instantly recognisable characters and terrific tunes.”
CCO will intersperse The Mikado with performances of a double bill of The Zoo and Trial By Jury.
Don’t let “opera” put you off: some people prefer to describe G and S as light opera or musical comedy. Certainly far from Wagner, it represents a chance to ease yourself into opera, now being removed from its traditionally elite setting by lively young companies such as CCO.
If you go and don’t like the show, you can turn to drink: it’s in a lovely pub.
Pointless trivia: William Schwenck Gilbert was born in 1836 and died in May 1911, about a century ago. Less pointless: like the Everly Brothers and the Gallaghers, he and his musical collaborator never overcame their personal differences. They hated each other.
* Rosemary Branch, 2 Shepperton Rd (off Southgate Rd), Islington N1 3DT (020 7704 6665).
* The Mikado, Oct 5, 7, 8, 13, 14, 20, 22 at 7.30pm; Oct 8, 9, and 22, 23 (weekends) 3pm. Double bill of The Zoo and Trial By Jury, Oct 6, 11, 15 at 7.30pm. Oct 15, 16 at 3pm. Tickets cost between £10 and £16, depending on what concession card you can flourish, which opera you book and when.
There are other shows at the Rosie before October; see the theatre’s website.