Even W.S. Gilbert fought against one of many writers’ most dreaded adversaries: writer’s block. Following the conclusion of Princess Ida at the Savoy Theatre, Gilbert and Sullivan were at a standstill with regards to what form their next operetta should take. It was at this point, Gilbert suggested a plot regarding a “magic lozenge” that would introduce conflict into the plot. Sullivan was not keen on this idea, calling the idea lacking in “human interest and probability”, and it was also reminiscent of one of their first productions The Sorcerer where everyone falls in love with the wrong person as a result of a love potion. This resulted in production of a new Savoy opera being stalled until Gilbert came up with the idea for The Mikado, which went on to become the most successful of Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaborations.
However, do not fear, for the “magic lozenge” idea was not lost completely to history. In fact, Gilbert collaborated with two other composers, Alfred Cellier, who died in the process of creating the comic opera, and Ivan Caryll, who finished in Cellier’s place, to write The Mountebanks, which was a comic opera in which a magical potion is administered which transforms people into what they pretend to be. However, this was not a huge success, and it was on par with the moderate success of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Utopia, Limited, running for 229 performances. Critics praised Gilbert’s libretto at the time, but reviews of the score were mixed.
One can only wonder what might have happened should this plot have been used as the plot in Gilbert and Sullivan’s next collaboration and if it would have caused them to stop collaborating earlier or been a rollicking success, but alas, we must be satisfied with Gilbert and Sullivan’s six final collaborations: The Mikado, Ruddigore, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Gondoliers, Utopia, Limited, and The Grand Duke that were still to come.