Here’s a How-De-Do! A Centenary Celebration

Date 9th June 2024
Society Godalming Operatic Society
Venue Godalming Borough Hall
Type of Production Concert
Musical Director David Wright


Author: Pauline Surrey

1925 saw the first production of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera by this fledgling society. The piece chosen was ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’. There followed 100 years of marvellous productions, covering the whole G and S repertoire. So this summer concert was a Centenary Celebration, and played to full houses of enthusiastic GOS fans.

The excerpts from the various operas produced by the society in the last 100 years were performed in the order that the society performed them. It must have been very difficult choosing which items to include from such fine music and amusing songs, but GOS did us proud, and left us all feeling exhilarated and cheerful.

The two narrators, Richard Arthur and Nora Price, led us through the history of the society in a very informative yet light-hearted way. We heard when each work had been performed, first and subsequent performances; we heard of any unfortunate or amusing circumstances; and we heard of many of the long-standing performers of the past, which brought back lovely memories to the loyal GOS fans – Simon Cakebread and Hammy Sparks being just two of them I remember fondly. We heard of people who met their spouses through the society; of people who had been members for 50 years or more; of society performances further afield, such as at the Buxton International G and S Festival in Derbyshire, and at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera in Ireland. This all whetted our appetites for the forthcoming centenary exhibition celebrating the history of the society at Godalming Museum from November 13th this year.

Now to the performance itself. The orchestra gave us a rousing rendition of the overture to The Yeomen of the Guard. There followed two further items from Yeomen, which is to be the society’s next production in February 2025. An amusing version of ‘This helmet, I suppose’, from Princess Ida, with Arac, Guron and Scynthius clad in workmen’s hi-viz attire, hard hats, leather gauntlets, knee protectors and so on, was very funny.

Other highlights for me were, from the Gondoliers, ‘I am a courtier, grave and serious’, where Jon Lo and James Wing made great gondoliers; ‘Why, where be oi?’ with the full chorus giving it their all from The Sorcerer; ‘I am the very model of a modern Major General’, with Tim Dutton excelling himself in this performance from Pirates of Penzance.

We had more from Pirates with ‘When the foreman bears his steel’ with the policemen quivering with fear, and ‘When a felon’s not engaged in his employment’ with Richard Arthur as the doughty Sergeant of Police. ‘Loudly let the trumpets bray’ from Iolanthe, with a rousing performance from the full chorus, led us into the interval.

The second half began with that extremely popular work The Mikado, with Jon Lo giving a moving performance of ‘A wandering minstrel I’.   ‘Three little maids from school’ was delightful, with Rebecca Lucas-Coxon, Barbara Deans and Lucy McGuiness playing the giggling schoolgirls. Excerpts from Patience followed, with a particularly sparky version of ‘If Saphir I choose to marry’ with Alexandra Lawrence, Petronella Kerestzturi, Tim Dutton, Lee Power and Richard Arthur, and the full chorus.

From the rarely performed Utopia Limited (GOS has only produced it twice, in 1977 and 2007), we had the really comical ‘Society has quite forsaken’. It is sung by King Paramount (Richard Arthur) with the 6 Flowers of Progress, burly Englishmen kitted out with tambourines, who are distinguished counsellors in many aspects of English life. The poor king was quite perplexed by their slick tambourine routine, and their extremely serious faces. He was quite a slow learner in fact as he tried to copy them, and this was hilarious.

A great rendition of ‘When the night wind howls’ from Ruddigore by Lee Power was next. Nora Price showed a new side to herself with ‘Come bumpers, aye, ever so many’ as the highly inebriated Baroness von Krackenfeldt, and quite brought the house down!

HMS Pinafore was the chance again for the GOS chorus to delight us, as they always do, with ‘Over the bright blue sea Sir Joseph’s barge is seen’. Alec Evans as Sir Joseph Porter gave a super ‘When I was a lad’ – so much truth still in this marvellous song!

To inspire us to return in February for ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’, Ian Henderson and Alexandra Lawrence gave a delicious ‘I have a song to sing, O’

Lastly, as a kind of final blast, we were given ‘Here’s a How-De-Do’ from The Mikado with Alexandra Lawrence, Tim Dutton and Simon Wilson; ‘Hail Poetry’ from Pirates with Simon Wilson and the chorus; and the charming ‘Dance a cachucha’ from The Gondoliers where the full chorus sped us on our merry way.

David Wright is to be congratulated on his musical direction. The fine 20-piece orchestra got the balance, the tone and the volume just right. The soloists were outstanding in their diction, acting and interpretation of their numbers. They brought out the humour very well and had a good deal of panache. And as for the chorus, well what can I say, they provided exquisite harmony as ever, were also very expressive, and a delight to listen to.

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