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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon

Written by F C Burnand

Composed by Arthur Sullivan

Adapted from J Maddison-Morton’s farce


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    Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not necessarily represent the views of St David’s Players

    Cox and Box was adapted by F C Burnand from J Maddison Morton’s farce ‘Box and Cox’ which had first appeared in London in 1847. For the ‘triumviretta’ Burnand changed the character of Mrs Bouncer, the landlady, into Sergeant Bouncer, the landlord, late of the Dampshire Regiment. This was basically to accommodate the fact that performances, which were intended to be private, were to be given by the ‘Moray Minstrels’ a group of gentlemen from the musical and artistic community in London. Sullivan set the libretto to music and the piece first appeared (according to Burnand) at Burnand’s house, 102 Belgrave Road, S.W. on 23 May 1866. This is disputed by Arthur Lewis who maintained that it was Moray Lodge on 26 May.

    Whatever the truth, this first performance would have been as originally conceived with piano accompaniment. The first public performance took place at the Adelphi Theatre on 11 May 1867. For this Sullivan orchestrated the piece. He did not, however, supply an overture until a performance at the Theatre Royal, Manchester on 29 July of the same year.

    The work was later abridged as a curtain raiser to Burnand and Sullivan’s The Chieftain at the Savoy in 1894. The cuts involved some of the dialogue, some musical repeats, and the whole of the Gambling Duet (No:9). However, when, in the 1920’s, the piece was chosen as an alternative to Trial By Jury to precede any one of the three shorter G & S two act pieces, Cox and Box was again shortened and eventually appeared in the abridged ‘Savoy’ form that is most familiar to us today.


    Considering the fact that Cox and Box was a reasonably popular curtain raiser from the 1920’s onwards, it is perhaps surprising
    that the work had to wait until 1960 for its first recording. This only came about as a default. DECCA had at this time recorded two operas with full dialogue,
    HMS Pinafore and Iolanthe, and they now turned their attention to Gondoliers. The problem was that this opera was too long to fit onto 4 LP sides, it needed 5. So the decision was made to record Cox and Box as a filler on the sixth side.

    In the event this turns out to be a sparkling performance in the
    best traditions of the D’Oyly Carte. The blustering, scheming Bouncer is in the reliable hands of Donald Adams, Cox is played
    by the delightful Alan Styler and the underrated Joseph Riordan
    is Box. The New Symphony Orchestra of London gives an electrifying account of the score under the musical direction of Isidore Godfrey.

    As was the practice in 1960, the finale consists of some play-out music played over the final dialogue.

    DECCA have reissued the recording coupled with Ruddigore - catalogue number 473 656-2. The recording is also included in DECCA’s 24 disc box set.

    In 1978 DECCA again recorded Cox and Box. However, this recording never quite matched the magic of the original 1960 recording - somehow the lightness and verve of the earlier recording evades the cast on this occasion.

    That is not to say that there is not much to enjoy here - there is indeed. The playing of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is excellent and the martial music is especially enjoyable, obviously picking up on conductor Royston Nash’s military background.

    The principals too all acquit themselves with distinction. Gareth Jones is a delightful Mr Cox and gives more than a hint of the talent that he has displayed in more demanding roles in recent years. Geoffrey Shovelton too, at the beginning of his career, displays a delightfully fresh tenor voice, whilst Michael Rayner gives one of his best D’Oyly Carte performances as Bouncer. The recording, as with the stage performances of the time, reinstated the finale.

    DECCA have never reissued this recording, but it available coupled with the 1974 Trial by Jury from SOUNDS ON CD VGS 250

    Whilst it is undeniable that to hear a work in it’s original format is interesting, it has to be said that the ‘full length’ Cox and Box with piano accompaniment really does not bear frequent repeated listening, especially if, as here, it is recorded under studio conditions without an audience.

     This performance is very professionally executed with Leon Berger on top form as Cox,
    Ian Kennedy as a delightful Box and Donald Francke in full character as Bouncer.

    At the piano Kenneth Barclay gives a superb rendition of Sullivan’s score. The Overture is, of course, omitted, as it was not written until some 14 months after the first private performance. The version of the lullaby also, is the one that we are familiar with, not the original 6/8 version.

    However, we do gain the ‘Gambling Duet’, all the verses usually cut from other numbers, and a number of repeats, plus all the dialogue. In the event the recording runs for 62:42.

    The recording has been issued on the
    DIVINE ART label 2-4104.

    It has to be said that this much heralded recording on the CHANDOS label is something of a damp squib. I have already complained of the unnecessary re-write of a couple of lines in Trial, apparently for reasons of some misguided political correctness. But then to be presented with a Cox and Box advertised as the ‘première recording of the original orchestration’, only to find that the dialogue is replaced by an inane narration and, even worse, the ‘Gambling Duet’ has been omitted altogether, really is most disappointing. The booklet tries to explain the absence of the duet by maintaining that the version of the opera recorded is the abridged version of 1894, but inside information gives a different account. Apparently, running short of time in the recording sessions, an orchestral player expressed an opinion to Richard Hickox that the ‘Gambling Duet’ was such an inferior number that it might as well be omitted. And so the one number that many Sullivan devotees bought the recording to hear, is just not there.

    Given all that, what has been recorded is actually very good and after all, the narration, being separately banded, can be programmed out. James Gilcrist as Box, Neal Davies as Cox and Donald Maxwell as Bouncer all give excellent performances and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Richard Hickox are in sparkling form.

    The recording is issued by CHANDOS,
    catalogue number CHAN 10321.

    The much maligned Brent Walker series, apart from including all 11 operas from Trial through to Gondoliers, also included Cox and Box, and it is generally acknowledged that this recording is one of the best of the series.

     Freed from the restrictions of the stage, this production is able to take the three protagonists out of the house, into the street, and even into the local inn. There being no chorus in Cox and Box the Ambrosian Opera Chorus are used as various inhabitants of the neighbourhood and the whole production has a delightful ambiance redolent of a seedy Victorian London suburb.

    Russell Smythe is a delightful Cox whose vain attempts to bring some kind of sanity into the increasingly bizarre situations in which he finds himself, find him increasingly frustrated. Box (John Fryatt) on the other hand seems to take each new turn of events in a very laid-back manner, until that is, the threatened arrival of Penelope-Ann brings him back to earth.

    As a very Irish Bouncer, Thomas Lawlor is an absolute comic delight.

    The London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Alexander Faris and the opera is presented more or less complete with all the verses usually cut, the full ‘Gambling Duet’ and most of the musical repeats.

    The DVD is coupled with TRIAL and is available from UNIVERSAL 823 146-1.The DVD is also included as part of
    Universal’s 11 DVD set.


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      Annotated libretto of Cox and Box to which is appended the play-script of Box and Cox


    Original vocal score of Cox and Box courtesy of the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive containing all material subsequently cut, including the duet ‘Sixes’ and the original 6/8 version of Box’s lullaby.


    In two parts:


      Part One            Part Two