The Yeomen of the Guard

Date 11th November 2015
Society Betchworth Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue Betchworth Village Hall
Type of Production Opera
Director Virginia King
Musical Director Ian Stone
Choreographer N/A

Report

Author: Jon Fox

BODS have many members actively involved in the G&S repertoire in  local areas, allied to a Director and Musical Director both steeped in its tradition.    It was therefore no surprise to see a "Yeomen" set firmly in the traditional mould.   An avant garde production is, thankfully, rarely attempted in this most serious of Gilbert's librettos and Sullivan's possibly most glorious music in their joint works.

That being said, there were actually some tweaks in this production by the Director, Virginia King.   Phoebe Meryll traditionally opens the show whilst seated at a spinning wheel.    In this production we had instead three ladies seated and sewing embroidery as Phoebe - Jane Johnson - sang "When Maiden Loves" sans spinning wheel!

Enter Wilfred Shadbolt - Colin Bousfield -  as the brutish dim-witted  head gaoler intent on wooing Phoebe.   There was some realistic interplay between her and the lecherous Wilfred.    Phoebe's contemptuous, and later on teasing behaviour in stark contrast to the frustrated and oafish assistant tormentor.   These are two of Gilbert's most rewarding roles and both actors milked the gifts the author gave them to the fullest extent.

Neil Williams as Colonel Fairfax is real leading man type - tall, handsome, great stage presence and a lovely tenor voice.   He portrayed womanising, somewhat arrogant devil may care Fairfax.   A  most enjoyable performance.

Trevor Allen also has a fine presence and possesses a mellifluous speaking and fine singing voice.    The solid, kind Sergeant Meryll, father to Phoebe and the heroic Leonard Meryll has rarely been so aptly cast.    Lloyd Walsh was a youthful, dashing Leonard Meryll.    Their trio "Alas I waver to and fro", though well sung was rather too static for my liking.

Dame Carruthers is a typical "battleaxe" contralto, stern, forbidding, but given to showing her feminine side late in Act 2.    Brenda Judd has made something of a speciality in these roles and here one could see why!    The "Rapture, Rapture" duet with Sergeant Meryll unusually had chorus dancers on stage which worked well and added much needed movement.

Carolyn Burnley is from the world of opera, here playing the Dame's niece, Kate and holding the critical soprano line in the "Strange Adventure" Quartet.   Doubtless she will be asked to stay at BODS.

David Clark and Stephen Tickell as first and second yeomen respectively sang nicely and their power helped make up for the lack of Yeomen in this production.   Stephen also doubled as stage manager - well done!

Selena Hegarty was the winsome Elsie Maynard, possesses a lithe and youthful appearance, a lovely soprano voice and good acting skills.   Elsie is serious minded throughout and her final happiness upon realising that her beloved 'Leonard' is actually her husband is a long overdue shaft of sunlight in her lonely life.

Peter Grove as the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Richard Cholmondeley was born to play roles of authority.   As the perennially serious 'boss' of the Tower, his bearing, voice and delivery of lines demand he play this role, and play it he most certainly did.

And so on to the pivotal role of Jack Point, a jester with feet of clay, albeit nimble ones.    David Longes has played this part several times.   Though no longer young David brought a delightful range of nuanced acting skills to bear.   Moving precisely, with superb diction and a mixture of world weary cynicism yet vulnerability, he perfectly captured the essence of this most complex but rewarding role.

Costumes were no more than adequate for the Yeomen and a blue costume for Sergeant Meryll is usually expected, though not in evidence here.    The ladies costumes were rather better but  if anything were too posh.   The green satin looking dress was a little out of keeping for the poverty stricken Elsie, however her wedding dress was lovely. 

The set was realistic looking, a stone effect really giving the feel of the Tower of London.   Its construction, no mean task, was undertaken by Stephen Tickell, Julian Warner-Edney and Neil Williams and realistically painted by David Clark.

Director Gini King also designed the set and supplied some costumes together with Lois Hatt.   The show was tightly directed and showed great understanding of the traditional style, though a little more movement in some songs would have been preferable for my liking.

BODS is a singing, rather than dancing company and the good singing is far more important in this, perhaps G&S most melodic work.   Both Gilbert and Sullivan regarded Yeomen as their best work, as do many devotees, myself included.   There is more depth to the key characters than in their other works and some of Sullivan's most harmonic and glorious music and indisputably the greatest Act one Finale by both men.

With superb use of lighting by David Ames and a company musically well drilled by Musical Director Ian Stone, who provided sterling, albeit lone, accompaniment on his keyboard, director Gini King can feel well satisfied with this most enjoyable production.

I want to mention how very much team effort was evident in this production, both backstage, onstage and front of house.   A lot of really caring theatre folk have clearly put heart and soul into the production and it certainly showed.