By W.S. GILBERT
Directed by MORRIS PANYCH
Set designed by KEN MACDONALD
Costumes designed by CHARLOTTE DEAN
Lighting designed by ALAN BRODIE
Original music by RYAN DESOUZA
“He tells me that his greatest happiness is to see me happy. So it will be my duty to devote my life, my whole life, to making myself as happy as I possibly can.”
A comic look at love, marriage and money from one half of the team of Gilbert and Sullivan. We’re in Scotland as yet another train is “derailed” (by some locals) and the passengers have to stay the night. They include a wealthy bachelor who can’t see a pretty girl without proposing to her and within minutes he’s gotten engaged – twice! What’s worse is, he’s already engaged! Written in 1877, a year before Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, the celebrated team’s librettist created a sensation of his own with this satire that went on to inspire the comedies of Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward.
“One of my favourite parts of our programming is what we call the ‘archaeological’ part. By this we mean plays from deep in the heart of the original mandate period that, for one reason or another, have been left at the back of the shelf as time has moved on. I came upon a Victorian anthology that contained this play and two pages in I was laughing out loud. What a joy to bring this fresh, feisty, hilarious play back to life under the guidance of Morris Panych, no stranger to off-kilter comedy himself!” —JM
This show is recommended for ages 13+.
Running time is approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.
Assistant Stage Manager
To call W.S. Gilbert a subversive writer might sound surprising. He looks like an eminent Victorian, the very model of theatrical respectability and a master of the comic lyric. But Engaged, a play written by Gilbert just as his partnership with Arthur Sullivan was beginning to take off, attracted jeers as well as laughter when it received its premiere at the Haymarket in 1877. One critic said, “For heartless, cold-blooded, brutal cynicism, the play has never perhaps been equalled.”
So what upset some critics and audiences at the time? Engaged was clearly intended as a satire on the Victorian obsession with wealth. It is also a parody of romantic melodrama with overblown sentiment repeated throughout the play – “You are the tree on which the fruit of my heart is growing,” our hero repeatedly assures the trio of pretty maids to whom he finds himself simultaneously engaged. What becomes clear is that what really motivates Gilbert’s characters more than love is the prospect of money.
The action of the play begins near Gretna Green, Scotland where the locals have a lucrative little sideline – derailing express trains so that the wealthy passengers have to spend the night in their cottages, naturally at a price. The latest victims of this scam are the wealthy bachelor, Cheviot Hill, who can’t see a pretty girl without proposing to her, his friend, Belvawney, whose job it is to extricate his pal from these engagements, and Belinda, with whom Belvawney has just eloped.
There is a problem, though. Within minutes, Cheviot has got himself engaged to both a Scottish lassie (“It would be ingratitude not to admire myself. I’m a very, very beautiful girl”) and inadvertently married Belinda in a Scottish ceremony, where a mere declaration of marriage before witnesses is regarded as legally binding. Worse still, he is already engaged to Minnie, a young lady back in London. The romantic complications become preposterously tangled, but then news comes through that the Royal Indestructible Bank, where Cheviot has invested his fortune, has gone bust. Will their love(s) endure?
Engaged has been W. S. Gilbert’s most popular stage work aside from the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas. A New York Times review of an 1886 production noted that “the laughter was almost incessant.” In a more recent review of a New York production in 2004, Michael Feingold of The Village Voice said, “Gilbert’s play belongs in the classic line of English comedy. [Oscar] Wilde pillaged this piece for ideas: To see it onstage is to watch The Importance of Being Earnest discovering its long-lost father, and the works of Noël Coward their dashing, bewhiskered granddad.”
May 18-20 and September 28-30
Calling all theatre lovers! Meet the creative minds behind theatre-making at the Shaw Festival, from play selection to play direction. Includes: four plays, three lunches, presentations, and parking. From $395.
Book Beyond the Stage events at 1.800.511.7429.
Engaged was a constant chuckle and a delightful performance.
… a thoroughly satirical hoot!
Fast-paced, farcical, fun and fantastic: Engaged … hugely entertaining.
The performance was absolutely wonderful. Well acted with some modern twists for something that premiered in 1877. Highly recommend it!!
We thoroughly enjoyed Engaged, and the cast was fabulous. An outstanding performance by Gray Powell as “Cheviot”.
… very silly, in a good way.