West Wirral Musical presents ‘Master to Master’ at Westbourne Hall, West Kirby 14th Oct to 17th Oct 2016

Master to Master comes from a phrase used by W.S. Gilbert in a letter to A.S. Sullivan at a time when there was – let us be polite – some friction between them, “If we meet it must be as master and master, not master and servant”.  The slight alteration of the “And” to the “To” is to  try and show the tension that existed between the two of them, especially in their later years. From their early beginnings in collaborating on “Thespis”, there was always a mismatch in their approach to their work, with Sullivan always delivering the music, at the last possible moment. But as an old saying goes – opposites attract – so between them their talents seem to blend perfectly.

Gilbert and Sullivan wrote fourteen operas between them. Thespis, their first collaboration, only ran for sixty four performances and Sullivan was so annoyed with what he had written that he destroyed all the music. So sadly, although some versions have been cobbled together from Sullivan’s other music, the original cannot be performed until a genuine original score is somehow unearthed – we can always hope. A couple of songs did survive from the show. Sullivan used his “Climbing over rocky mountains” number in “The Pirates of Penzance”, and so using the original words from the libretto I have tried to put together, what I think is the nearest version of the song in a “Thespis” setting.

Master to Master features at least one piece of music from each opera. It would be fantastic to clothe all the performers in costumes for the pertinent piece, whole choruses of Gondioleri, Yeomen of the Guard, Aesthetic maidens, etc, unfortunately the cost of doing so is prohibitive, and even if we could some of the costume changes happen so quickly that the cast would have to change on the stage – possibly distracting from what is going on elsewhere. Our way round this is to have most of the operas treated as though they were in rehearsal, with the chorus in normal Victorian dress for most of the time. Naturally, the principals, would be costumed as the character they were playing.

Most of the dialogue I have used between the actors playing, Gilbert, Sullivan, Carte. Helen le Noir and Gilbert’s wife, is what they actually said. At least that is what is stated in the many books that I have read whilst putting this together, and I have tried to be as accurate as possible, so if I have made any errors I would be grateful for people to enlighten me. Please write your possible change on a twenty pond note and send it to me.

I have also used some dialogue from the operas when I felt it would enhance the performance, especially when Gilbert interrupts the scenes. Most of the interruptions are taken from accounts recorded at the time but I have to take a liberty from time to time.

I have been directing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan for over forty years, and have taken a principal role in every one of them. I feel very sorry for all those people in the audiences who have had to suffer my efforts on the stage over this time. However, I must say that I over the years I have worked with some outstanding talents, amazing singers and consummate actors. I can honestly say that rehearsals have been just as enjoyable as the actual performances.

This is the third time the show has been staged. One of the strengths of the show (in my opinion) is that it is flexible. By that I mean that many of the songs can be changed to suit the abilities of the cast involved. So even if you have seen it before, you may find that another song is also included where it wasn’t before. Every performance is different, not many shows can say that.

So from  all those who have a deep knowledge of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, to those who are new to them, I hope that you will all find something in our show to please you, and that you will be thoroughly entertained.

Wishing everybody all the best, Barry Prescott. Author, Director, Musical Director (on certain nights), scenery shifter, prompt, tea maker on occasions and general dogsbody.

NODA Review:

MASTER TO MASTER   West Wirral Musical Society.  14-10-2016

Billed as the story of Gilbert and Sullivan it is rightfully the tale of a triumphant triumvirate and to Gilbert and Sullivan must be added the name of Richard Doyle Carte. The latter named  was referee to the continuous clashes between the main protagonists and his contribution to their success can not be underestimated. Author Barry Prescott brought this to the fore and David Bolitho who played D’Oyle-Carte certainly brought the character to life. Mark Prescott (Sullivan ) and Kevin Prendergast (Gilbert) skilfully completed the trio catching the flavour of two men who were of completely different mien.

Having seen Producer / Author Barry Prescott wearing many theatrical hats it came as no surprise to see further evidence of his many talents. Michael Hoyland in his capacity of Musical Director  proved to be a more than adequate Watson to Prescott’s Holmes whilst Bernadette O’Neill provided the always necessary choreography.

Velda Prescott and Kathy Jordan as the wives of D’Oyly-Carte and Gilbert brought out the strain which existed between the three main characters. Their real life situation must have been difficult. Using the side of stage to allow dramatic dialogue enabled the action to flow although at times voice projection was an issue.

The dialogue was Interspersed by a chorus who gave their audience a rich cornucopia of Gilbert and Sullivan’s repertoire. The need to address as much as possible of the G&S songbook will always leave the audience thinking “why didn’t they do this or do that” and I too was guilty in this respect.  The choice however was well taken, highly entertaining and well executed.

Apart from a fine “on stage” cast West Wirral enjoy the benefits brought by a strong “back stage crew” who deserve plaudits for their contribution to the production.  Well done to you all.