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The Arcadians review at Wilton’s Music Hall, London – ‘the score is an absolute winner’

Eleanor Janes, Emily Kyte, Emily Juler in The Arcadians at Wilton's Music Hall, London Eleanor Janes, Emily Kyte, Emily Juler in The Arcadians at Wilton's Music Hall, London
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Back in 1909, Lionel Monckton and Howard Talbot’s ‘fantastical musical play’ The Arcadians was an enormous hit, running for 809 performances – the third-longest run for any piece of musical theatre up to that date.

These days such an Edwardian confection – somewhere between operetta and musical comedy – languishes on the shelf until rescued by that valiant little enterprise Opera della Luna, which specialises in comic opera.

Even so, this was not a full-scale production, but described as a semi-staged, rehearsed reading – though many of the performers were off the book and certainly inside their roles.

The premise of the piece is that Londoner Jim Smith’s plane is brought down in Arcadia, where he is converted to the virtues of truth and simplicity and renamed Simplicitas. He returns to London with a couple of Arcadians in tow, who become all the rage at Askwood Races and in their own Arcadian restaurant in the West End.

Ibsen it isn’t, but there are lots of good jokes in the book, gently adapted by director Jeff Clarke, and the score is an absolute winner, some numbers recalling Sullivan or Edward German, others the music hall and the rise of musical comedy.

David Russell Hulme has made an expert new arrangement for 11-piece salon orchestra, which Michael Waldron conducts with style as well as skill.

Though they’re using the set for a different show, the costumes – from the company store – are apt to all requirements. The cast throw themselves at their material with a winning joie de vivre, Paula Sides fielding a superior soprano as Sombra, Rosemary Ashe giving a masterclass in maximising the impact of every line, and Neil Ditte whipping up a storm of comic activity as Smith and his Arcadian alter ego.

Any chance of a full-scale production?

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Verdict
An enthusiastic cast breathes life into Monckton and Talbot’s forgotten operetta
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