Sunday, June 26, 2011

"The Sorcerer" Considered as a Political Statement

I spent a good deal of this afternoon attending a performance (the last, so you don't get to go) of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sorcerer," a work I had never seen before. It was not entirely Gilbert and Sullivan's; the setting had been transferred to 1890's India, with a few minor changes in names and words to make it fit, and I gather that the costuming, setting and dance routines had been deliberately provided with a substantial dose of Bollywood aesthetics. I have some reservations about the general project of modifying classics; there is a reason why William Shakespeare or Gilbert and Sullivan are as famous as they are, so editing by a less distinguished artist may not be, on the odds, a good gamble. But this time it worked.

I had not realized the degree to which "The Sorcerer" could be seen as a political statement, an attack on paternalism. The central figure, for those unfamiliar with the plot (and willing to hear about it), is an irresponsible young idiot named Alexis with an ideological commitment to the principle that love solves all problems and is its own justification—it doesn't really matter who loves whom or why. Acting on that principle, he spikes the party teapot with a love potion provided by a professional sorcerer ("My name is John Wellington Wells/A Dealer in magic and spells/..." the only part of the play I had heard before), everyone in the village falls asleep, and when they wake up each falls in love with the first person of suitable gender he or she sees, not counting married people or those who have already seen and fallen in love with someone else. 

Almost everyone ends up paired off, most of them unsuitably, although the plot does manage to free them at the end. It is clear from Alexis' conversation with the young woman he is in love with that he has devoted no serious thought either to the truth of the belief whose implications he is imposing on a large number of other people without their consent or to the likely consequences; indeed, it is not entirely clear that he is capable of thought at all. When a minor miscarriage of the plan on which he insisted results in his chosen maiden falling in love with someone else, he blames her.

It was a very entertaining performance, and my only complaint is that Gilbert got the ending wrong. Having Alexis carried off to Hell might have been a mildly excessive punishment, but he shouldn't have gotten the girl.

Now for dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think having the young nobleman offload the consequences of his screw-up onto a working man and still go off to a happy ending was part of the political point G&S were making.