Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I took a fantasy trip to the real coastal Welsh town of Aberystwyth. Heather reviewed The Daughter of the River Valley, set in a Cornish mining town in the 1860s. Tina reviewed the latest Jack Reacher novel by British author Lee Child. Gaele reviewed The Locksmith’s Daughter, set in Elizabethan England. Sim reported on the remarkable number of actors from the British Isles who have been cast in the next adaptation of Little Women.
I watched Topsy-Turvy because it was mentioned in The West Wing Weekly podcast. Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and many other successful TV shows and movies, majored in musical theater in college. There are quite a few references to Gilbert and Sullivan, in The West Wing. The title of the fifth episode of the second season is “And it’s Surely to Their Credit,” a not-quite-quote from H.M.S. Pinafore. When The West Wing Weekly got to that episode, they mentioned the 1999 British film, Topsy-Turvy, about Gilbert and Sullivan.In Topsy-Turvy, Jim Broadbent (The Sense of an Ending and many more films and TV shows) plays W.S. Gilbert and Allan Corduner (I saw him most recently in Dancing on the Edge) plays Sir Arthur Sullivan. We also enjoyed Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, Bridget Jones, and Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films) as one of the actors in the Gilbert and Sullivan troupe.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s most recent production, Princess Ida, has flopped and they can’t agree on what or how they are going to come up with another play, even though they are under contract to the Savoy Theatre to write one. Eventually, they end up with The Mikado, after Gilbert is inspired by the Japanese Village, an exhibition of Japanese arts and crafts in Knightsbridge.
The Mikado, although not entirely clear from the story in Topsy-Turvy, is a commentary on British politics set in a British Victorian fantasy of Japan. Of course, that needs to be fully contextualized to be palatable to modern audiences with concerns about respecting other cultures. In 2016, the Lamplighters Music Theatre in San Francisco came up with an interesting solution — re-setting the whole thing in Renaissance Milan (according to the Wikipedia article).
I enjoyed the 1884-1885 setting of Topsy-Turvy and the new contraptions. Sullivan is handed a reservoir pen that doesn’t require dipping. There’s a humorous telephone call. I didn’t really notice it in the film, but the Savoy Theatre is well-known for being the first public building entirely illuminated by electric lights.
Have you seen Topsy-Turvy? What did you think?