6th October 2018
Poynton Civic Hall
Type of Production
Author: Kevin Proctor
The same year that the Third Reform Bill to include women in the vote was rejected, Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Princess Ida’ premiered at London’s Savoy theatre. Putting the last five minutes of the production aside, I imagine this title, based on Lord A Tennyson’s poem ‘The Princess’ would have appealed to the ‘new women’ of the late 1800’s and no doubt would have equally irritated others to have a piece of theatre which celebrated and encouraged female sovereignty. However, I doubt those aforementioned last five minutes of the production would have been as well received amongst feminists as the strong will of the title character appears to collapse out of nowhere, seemingly, for no other reason than to present a finale to match every other of the era with the central man and woman ‘happily(?)’ uniting. Please don’t get me wrong here, I think a happy joining of hearts is a wonderful and positively uplifting ending to a musical production, ‘we’re in love you can now applaud and go home’ is a winning formula for many. It just feels somewhat manufactured in this piece and, dare I say, rather unexpected - it almost felt amiss to be happy with her outcome.
Putting my gripe with the final consequence aside, many of the principal soloists of Poynton G&S certainly command the audience’s attention with striking renditions and here was no exception. Leading vocals are always consistent from this society, a fulfilling asset to the group. Sue Sawyer and Andrew Pugh are vocally superb as Ida and Hilarion, as ever, a pleasure to observe their renditions. There were solid supporting roles filtering down to the epic chorus too, primarily Jeanette Wood’s Melissa and Kate Holt’s Lady Psyche leaving their impressionable stamps. A good turn was also offered by the three Gama brothers with their suits of armour section which the audience lapped up.
The vocals of the male and female chorus were nothing short of exceptional, providing a reliable and entertaining factor to the whole presentation, where one side will usually surpass the other this was the most balanced the two have been during my time visiting Poynton G&S which was a delight to observe. Renowned for having plenty of chorus involvement, this piece seems to be busier for the chorus than most G&S operas I’ve seen, the one flaw in this area was how it did make some parts appear to be slightly static, largely due to so many of the chorus being on stage for so much of the time, with little to do other than observe the action. You could scan the chorus members in their semicircle and quickly spot who were animated and responding to the main action against those who’d switched off.
The comedy was brought to the stage predominantly by Ian Whitfield’s jaunty King Hildebrand, a wonderfully bumbling character which lit up the stage, his booming voice ensured every word and pun was well defined. Lady Blanche was portrayed by Sarah Parker who, like Ian, brought the biggest chuckles of the evening presented with appropriate authority peppered with glances out front to suggest what was underneath the harsh exterior, desperate to be let out, adding to the comedic delivery with elation.
Often the case with many Gilbert and Sullivan productions, casting these celebrated operas age appropriately is often a struggle - as per, this did present an additional layer to the humour but was wholly accepted for what it was.
It was a strive to define what was being articulated by one of the three who disguise themselves as females to enter the Castle Adamant, one of the gents proffered his portrayal with a high pitch effeminate voice which made understanding what was being spoken somewhat tricky, the other two remained with their usual voices which not only contributed to the spoof it, more importantly, remained possible for us to comprehend what was actually being spoken.
Following on from the most recent Poynton G&S presentations the cast were given a piano duo as their foundation, wonderful and solid accompaniment all under the baton of Catherine Silman.
As always, I’ve enjoyed having my knowledge of the G&S genre broadened. Being instantly struck with something different …‘medieval England this time!’ which further contradicts the phrase often muttered by many non G&S supporters …”you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all”.
I do relish the idea of creatively going to town, adding bold stamps to the presentations of these timely pieces to make them appeal to a new audience. Something which probably needs to happen if there’s still to be G&S societies thriving in another 20 years or so? Food for thought perhaps? But, on the other hand, they’ve been around for over 130 years so far so what’s to say they won’t survive another 20+!?