Oxbridge Postgrads Perform Slick Yeomen of the Guard

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Gilbert & Sullivan, The Yeomen of the Guard: Oxbridge Opera Company / Christopher Milton (conductor), Buxton G&S Festival, Opera House, Buxton, 28.7.2013 (RJW)

Buxton Oxbridge Yeomen of the Guard
Buxton Oxbridge Yeomen of the Guard

Thomas West … Sir Richard Cholmondeley
Pablo Strong …  Colonel Fairfax
David Milner-Pearce … Sergeant Meryll
Thomas Drew … Leonard Meryll
Jordan Bell … Jack Point
Ben Lewis … Wilfred Shadbolt
Luke Churchill … 1st Yeoman
Samuel Pantcheff … 2nd Yeoman
Nicholas Bleisch … 1st Citizen
Ned Stuart-Smith … 2nd Citizen
Prudence Sanders … Elsie Maynard
Katie Slater … Phoebe
Clara Kanter … Dame Carruthers
Isabella Gage … Kate

Choreography by Davina Barron
Directed by Rory Pelsue

This was one of the slickest and most meaningfully presented amateur productions of Yeomen I have seen for a long time. Here Gilbert’s elements of ceremony, humour, pathos and melodrama have all been teased out of the 125 year old libretto and nicely communicated to the audience. With all principals being good singers and backed by a well-rehearsed chorus Sullivan’s masterful score was superbly delivered. The company formed mainly from post-graduates from England’s two oldest universities, although now widely scattered, find time each year to come together at Buxton to start blocking a new show one week before its performance. Their attention to detail is staggering and the principals, all excellent singers, have thoroughly studied the roles they play.

Director, Rory Pelsue has a good eye for staging and, drawing on the strengths of traditional productions, he introduces fresh ideas that are appealing and make sense.  We have accepted without question the bustling entrance of the citizens for “Here’s a man of jollity” with Jack and Elsie trailing behind the mob, whereas in reality a crowd would always follow the attraction. In this production Elsie appears first and is logically followed on stage by the interested crowd. Gilbert’s impactful finale in Act II, “Oh thoughtless crew”, has been freshly devised and superbly played: Jack’s rejection is nicely handled without any of the usual shock tactics of Fairfax snatching Elsie away. A row of citizens come forward to screen and protect Elsie on the final “Heighdy” and then more viciously reinforce Point’s rejection. These were just two of many nice touches I noticed.

Musically, the augmented festival orchestra played well and only infrequently did the singing get out of step and the orchestra not catch up. It was nice to hear the ‘O’ in “I have a song to sing, O”  placed more logically to lead into the next line. There were outstanding performances by Elsie, Point and Shadbolt, and well supported by the other principals. The Hugh Ambrose scene and Phoebe/Shadbolt scenes were particularly well played. It was good to see Shadbolt’s lost “When jealous torments” reintroduced to the opera and delivered superbly. The chorus was a determined mob and Jack Point a likeable and believable character, full of mischief and confident enough to stand up to Lieutenant Cholmondeley’s examination. I liked Elsie’s portrayal as a more determined girl who could stand up to the rabble rather than the timid character so often played.

The setting with its nicely painted backdrop of Old London worked well, but maybe a reliance on atmospheric and shadowy cross-lighting was somewhat severe, especially since faces were occasionally lost. The scarlet of the elegant Yeomen uniforms contrasted nicely with the earthy citizens’ colours and for once Elsie and Fairfax were not overdressed in their finale wedding finery. One asks where spectacular clothes used in many productions could ever be found at such short notice. Here, a slight brightening in the garments is much more believeable.

Oxbridge have been highly active in this first week of the Festival: they added this excellent Yeomen by putting on two afternoon shows, on Noel Coward and Ivor Novello, where a selection of songs were sung to piano accompaniment. The three events were well attended and much appreciated by the audiences.

Raymond J Walker