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  • Writer's pictureEugene

Topsy-Turvy (1999)

29th December 2018

For our last film of the year we welcomed Laurence Leng from The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Sussex who gave a fascinating talk about G&S in general an the evening's film in particular. It included a minute's recording of Sir Arthur Sullivan on a phonograph over 100 years previously. 

Being a long film we went straight to it leaving the interval for a mid point in the film.  My own view (as usual, without being able to take advantage of the discussion group's deliberations) was that the film could have lost 40 minutes without suffering - particularly the first half that seemed to cover ground that was not really related to the story line.  I heard disparaging comment that much of the second half was scenes from the Mikado but not having seen that operetta for several decades, I enjoyed it.  I also heard comment that a full film of the Mikado was expected - the trailer and posters were quite clear so I have little sympathy for that complaint.

In summary, another enjoyable evening - both entertaining and informative - shared with sixty others.



ilbert and Sullivan, said our knowledgeable guest, Laurence Leng, was like Marmite. Either you loved the productions or you hated them.  This was certainly reflected in our discussion after watching Topsy-Turvy.  While some felt the film dragged, others felt “Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!” (The Gondoliers).  Richard, who had once picked up Dame Bridget D'Oyly Carte in his London cab, summed up the fans’ view – “Every minute is beautiful to look at and listen to.”

Laurence Leng, from the Sussex G and S Society, gave us the fascinating background to the film, explaining how an English school of opera was created by the wordy Gilbert, who had been a barrister and Sullivan, whose father had been a bandmaster.  We kept our eyes out for WS Gilbert’s walking stick in the film, which was the authentic one he used.  The film stayed true to facts, including the scene when The Mikado cast rallied together to save his only solo, the only time Gilbert’s mind was changed.  The amount of drug and alcohol abuse from the cast surprised some of us.

The improvised nature of the film led some of us to feel that certain scenes were slow. There was some discussion about the individual performances of the actors, who all sang, with no dubbed performances. For the fans, the film was a pure tribute to D’Oyly Carte and the exhilarating experience of putting on a show together.

Laurence also felt that the decline of musical education in schools and the fewer end of term productions had contributed to G and S being out of fashion. However, it is still popular in US and Australia, and there are many societies in Britain that boldly keep the flame burning.

So, even if, in the memorable words of Stephen, you like Spike Lee rather than Mike Leigh, there was plenty to enchant in this colourful glimpse into Victorian Britain. 

May all good fortune, all good fortune prosper you,

May you have health, may you have health and riches too,

May all good fortune prosper you,

May you have health and riches too,

May you succeed in all you do!

Long life, long life to you — till then!

Finale, Act 1 The Mikado

Anne Goldstein

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