Having not thought much about classical music since GCSE Music, watching a show by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society is not usually my typical scene in Cambridge theatre. But their productions had been recommended to me many times by my more musical friends and it’s fair to say that their latest production, The Yeoman of the Guard, exceeded all my expectations.
The Yeoman of the Guard recounts the story of Colonel Fairfax, who faces execution for sorcery and asks to marry before his death in order to pass on his inheritance to someone other than his cousin and accuser. After marrying Elsie Maynard, Fairfax poses as a yeoman to escape execution and as the plot begins to unfold, chaos ensues. While the opera’s comedy is slow to start, it’s doubled down on from half-way through the first act and is consistent until the end, and even succeeds in mixing tragic elements in with the humour. The abrupt end was also slightly anti-climactic, but this is a minimal complaint on an overall well-written piece by the duo.
The direction by Victoria Gray, both in terms of plot and music, translated well in the production. The characterisation was impressive overall and practically faultless musically, perhaps a particular feat considering the number of Freshers and first-time Cambridge actors and performers in the cast. There were some actors who initially somewhat overplayed their performances, however, many came into their stride as the opera progressed
Turning to the music, the orchestra and cast deal with some objectively challenging pieces, with polyphonic choral numbers, where more than one melody is sung in unison, complex harmonies and solo performances that exploited the whole range of some singers’ voices. With pieces as challenging as these and a production of this length, it was surprising to see so few slip-ups, and the score only improved as the production went on.
Credit must be given to the show’s two scene stealers, Anna Cooper as Elsie and Jonathan Eddyshaw as Jack. Cooper’s singing ability was completely faultless, with a beautiful vocal quality and impressive range – her high notes were captivating and almost shocked me out of my chair. Eddyshaw was equally an impressive singer, but it was his acting that was the most enchanting. His eccentricity as the jester felt natural and was able to characterise both Jack’s merry and his more tragic moments with ease. Every time he was on stage, he drew my undivided attention.
Whether you’re a Gilbert & Sullivan aficionado or this would be your first evening watching opera by choice, I could not recommend this performance highly enough. Despite some minor failings, it makes for an extremely enjoyable evening.