The familiar sounds of dialogue and singing come from the rehearsal room. Like so many times before, the sounds of Gilbert and Sullivan float ethereally through the air. Yet, unlike so many times before, the sounds of tonight’s rehearsal are for a different kind of Gilbert and Sullivan show. Tarantara Tarantara written by Ian Taylor in 1975 tells the collective story of Sir William Schwenk Gilbert, Sir Arthur Sullivan, and Richard D’Oyly Carte and their artistic collaborative partnership. The company telling the tale of Gilbert and Sullivan is the Savoy Opera Company. Based in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, Savoy, as the company is more commonly known around the city, regularly perform the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan to adoring and appreciative audiences.
Picture if you will, the relationship between two of the Victorian era’s best-known and beloved music theatre satirists. Daniel Carison of Savoy sheds some light on the subject of the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan whilst speaking with Theatre People. “One great line sums up the story and the relationship between the three characters… ‘Look, don’t underestimate these comic operas. They are good pieces of work, and what is more, they’ve already earned you far more money than your so-called ‘serious’ stuff, so don’t throw stones at them’.” Sullivan, the first recipient of the Royal Academy of Music’s Mendelssohn scholarship had a leaning towards music of a more serious nature. Yet, as Gilbert was to sum up later in life: “A Gilbert is of no use without a Sullivan.”
The partnership between Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte has created a stimulating environment for the cast and crew of Tarantara Tarantara to work in. “Each show is a learning experience in understanding the style of the work and the approach of the production team.” Daniel and Geoff Carison further elaborate on these points: “This show is more contemporary in its structure… its approach is often seen in the popular shows of today… three great men of their time with their artistic talents on display through their music and words.” For Savoy, a company with a long-standing tradition of performing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Tarantara Tarantara presents an opportunity to tell the story behind many of the operettas they have performed throughout the years.
Daniel tells Theatre People that during: “Savoy’s production of Tarantara, the company aims to present an entertaining portrayal of the men behind the operettas, combined with selected highlights of their musical achievements. The company will express how some of the most tumultuous professional relationships can result in some of the most successful work.” With permissions granted, Savoy has added the use of a full chorus giving added verism to many of the show’s scenes. This has allowed the company to utilise their vast costume and wardrobe facilities. And in turn, the production team has been able to decide which musical numbers to use, further enhancing their stamp on this production of Tarantara Tarantara.
The collaborative partnerships of Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte feature prominently throughout the production, it is not the only collaborative partnership that audiences will see brought to life. Geoff Carison and Daniel Carison are a father and son team involved in the onstage action. “I have worked in theatre for a number of years” Geoff tells Theatre People. He further elaborates on this with his onstage experience. This includes the roles of Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady and the Pirate King from the Pirates of Penzance, a production he was involved with for Savoy. Daniel equally at home on stage was “heavily involved in the performing arts” during his secondary school years. He performed Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof and Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. Both roles were performed to critical acclaim.
For two well-established theatre performers, this will be Geoff and Daniel’s first collaborative effort in the same production. Elaborating further, Daniel explains: “After years of performing and enjoying each other’s performances, it occurred to Geoff and I that we had never worked together on a production… we started doing some research into which shows in Melbourne were calling for auditions… Geoff suggested we check out what Savoy was up to… the production team were very excited to have the two of us involved in the show.”
Presented with the choice of being Gilbert, Sullivan, or D’Oyly Carte, Daniel tells Theatre People he would be Sullivan and Geoff that he would be Gilbert. “Perhaps its my love for music and composition… Sullivan was a highly skilled and versatile musician… he was able to define a completely new genre of English opera which still remains incredibly popular today.” Yet what is a Gilbert without a Sullivan and a Sullivan without a Gilbert? “Gilbert was a man of high intelligence” says Geoff. “He knew and understood his own talents and was not troubled in using them to his advantage.”
But what is it that Savoy hopes audiences take away from this production? The character of three men, Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte will ring true. And the enduring music of Gilbert and Sullivan whistled or sung whilst exiting the theatre. Musicians stop playing, instruments packed away quickly as the evening has passed, and the sounds of Gilbert and Sullivan fade. But the room is not quite silent. The buzz of excited conversation begins to replace music and dialogue. As Theatre People leave the venue, one things that Geoff and Daniel hoped for already rings true: the audience will walk away humming the tunes they have heard. Three little maids are we…
Tarantara Tarantara runs from the 4th of October to the 5th of October at the Alexander theatre Monash university Clayton campus. Tickets can be purchased at http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/mapa/events/tarantara-tarantara/