As one might expect from an English stage director who specializes in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Alistair Donkin's career in theater has been a delightful combination of fortune, absurdity and acclaim . . .
"I started off as a solicitor, you know," Donkin explained before realizing he'd have to translate for American audiences, a skill at which he's become quite adept after working with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston for more than three decades.
Donkin explained how he juggled a career in law with a love of acting and, for years, managed to make it work.
"I mean, I started off as a lawyer, you know," he laughed, adding that he also spent some time in local politics. In fact, his website says he was once the mayor of a small town called Market Drayton near the border of Wales. Donkin explained how he juggled a career in law with a love of acting and, for years, managed to make it work.
"At some point, though, I was rehearsing for three shows at once, each at least 30 minutes from my house. When I got offered a full-time acting job with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (the revered Gilbert and Sullivan opera company) in 1979, I took it never looked back. I can't say my mother was very happy."
When D'Oyly Carte folded in 1982, the actor returned to juggling a variety of productions, including one in Houston where a local Gilbert and Sullivan Society enjoyed a loyal following. Donkin's intimate knowledge of W.S. Gilbert's librettos and Arthur Sullivan's music quickly elevated him to the role of director, a post he maintains to this day.
"This is the 31st straight year I've been working in Houston — it's absolutely crazy," he said. "I have to admit, though. This is probably one of the best groups I've worked with through the years. We've traveled to England at least three times. We even won an award for The Mikado at the Buxton Festival in 2004.
"English people just love the idea of hearing Gilbert and Sullivan through Texas accents."
Celebrating its 60th year, Houston's G&S company has acquired an ornate black and silver backdrop used for an Iolanthe production staged in honor of Queen Elizabeth's recent Diamond Jubilee.
"I don't want to give too much away, but this year's show looks amazing and has some very interesting special effects," Donkin said. "I don't think the audience will be disappointed."