The NODA Review
The Yeomen of the Guard
A Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy Opera staged by Crosby Gilbert and Sullivan Society at Southport Little Theatre, Hoghton Street, Southport on Friday, 18th March, 2022.
The Yeomen of the Guard or The Merryman and His Maid is a Savoy Opera premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 3rd October 1888. It was the eleventh collaboration out of the fourteen pieces between W.S Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Set in The Tower of London the score is considered by many to be Sullivan’s finest. The plot would require a lengthy explanation, but in short, perhaps, that this is the darkest and perhaps most emotional of the Savoy Opera’s ending with a broken-hearted main character and two very reluctant engagements, rather than the usual multi marriages! The libretto contains considerable humour, one-liners and, as always, a topsy-turvy plot!
This was my first visit to see a Crosby G & S production and I hope it won’t be my last. If I am honest, and I do pride myself on my honesty, my knowledge of Gilbert and Sullivan is limited, although in the past, in concerts and pantomimes, I have belted out a few G&S favourites such as ‘Cat Like Tread’ and ‘We Sail the Ocean Blue’ from ‘HMS Pinafore’… but having said all that, what I do know a little more about is… performance, enjoyment, team togetherness, quality singing, clarity of voice, talented musicians and outstanding performance all of which were in evidence that evening. From ‘first note to the last’ you could just tell that everyone on stage was enjoying being back in front of a ‘live audience!
I spoke with many society members during the evening and to a one, they all spoke about the ‘difficulties’ faced and overcome to get this production to stage! So, there is little or no doubt that the Production Team of Marilyn Taylor (Director), Chris Larkin (Musical Director), Ian Dunning (Assistant Musical Director), Emma Williams (Choreographer), Ann Dickinson MBE (Rehearsal Pianist) and probably many more, should be applauded on their efforts, commitment and dedication in ensuring that this production did reach the stage! Congratulation one and all… be ever so proud!
Anyone who has read any of my reviews will know that this is where I usually ‘stick my neck out’ and identify my personal favourite performances, although, on this occasion, it does feel slightly ‘wrong’ as this was a real ‘team effort’ with everyone on stage giving of their best! BUT having said that, I do feel it would be remiss of me not ‘stick my neck out just a little’ and identify MY five favourite performances…
The ‘Show Stealer’ for me was Simon Killeen who made the role of the ‘Head Jailor’ his own! A ‘supportive role’… but Simon made it far more! Great stage presence, great comedic timing with mannerisms and facial expressions aplenty. Worked well with the cast and his duet with Jack Point… ‘Hereupon we’re both agreed’ and the scene ‘wrapped’ around the song was a highlight for me… great job Simon be proud!
If I’m honest, I did find it difficult to separate my ‘top three’ with both our ‘Strolling Jesters’ being up there in contention for ‘Show Stealer’. Jonathan Taylor and Sally Shaw created, with ease, two wonderful characters in the form of ‘Jack Point’ and ‘Elsie Maynard’. Both had great stage presence, wonderful singing voices and worked really well together and with the rest of the cast! Well done you two be ever so proud!
Laura Henderson took on the role of the ‘Phoebe Meryll’ the strong willed, independent daughter of Sgt Meryll. Good stage presence, wonderful singing voice, never out of character. Well done young lady!
Peter Crichton took on the role of the flirtatious ‘Colonel Fairfax’. Another with good stage presence, good singing voice, worked well with the other cast members … be proud sir!
There were so many other notable performances… Ed Davies portrayal of ‘Sergeant Meryll’; Ian Dunning’s portrayal of ‘Sir Richard Cholmondeley’; Joan Ashcroft’s portrayal of ‘Dame Carruthers’ and James Fleming’s portrayal of Leonard Meryll. The cast also included… Elaine Williams as ‘Kate’, Nick Cooper as ‘First Yeoman’, Rick Walker as ‘Second Yeoman’, Gerry Smith as ‘First Citizen’, Bob Moretta as ‘Second Citizen’, Michael Seager as ‘The Headman’, Patrick Crampton as ‘The Priest’ and the gents and ladies chorus which included Michael Lomax, Steve Old, Bill Wiswell, Helen Bennett, Susanne Denner, Julie Gill, Josie Hardmen, Christine Harland, Marilyn Taylor and Emma Williams.
We were also treated to the ‘sound’ of a twelve piece orchestra under the expert guidance of Chris Larkin (Musical Director) in his sixth production with Crosby. Well done one and all… great sound!
Stage Management/Staging… Alan Golsing/Andrea Shacksmith-Claire looked provided the management on stage and Bob Jessamine (Southport Little Theatre) provided the single set used throughout. The set was well constructed, apt and provided a great platform for the production to be delivered … well done folks!
Sound… was under the guidance of Brian Hodge who did a good job! For me there was one slight issue… Crosby G & S do not use personal mikes but were supported by a number of ‘hanging’ mikes. This worked really well until it came to the softer, quieter, lower ranged vocals, when, on occasions, the orchestra did slightly override the vocals, which was a pity really as I really did not want to miss any of the wonderful voices to be heard! After saying that, this did not affect the overall production, but it is something to bear in mind for the future.
Lighting… under the watchful eye of Syd Coley was first class! Subtle, yet effective lighting changes throughout, created not only the right atmosphere but enhanced the overall production … great job!
Costumes… were, in the words of Craig Revel-Horwood - A…M…A…ZING! Created by Elaine Williams, who was also part of the cast and who I was able to speak with and congratulate personally after the show … be ever so proud Elaine!
Props… were apt and appropriate and used well throughout the show… SDC, Sam Ashton, Helen Bennett, Peter Crichton, Ronnie Morris and Rick Walker should all be congratulated.
A really thoughtful touch from Crosby G&S was their programme consideration. Programmes were not being sold as such, but donations were being asked… the results of which were to be sent to help the Ukrainian Humanitarian Appeal. So thoughtful and I believe a sum of £650.00 was raised… well done!
As stated above, this was my ‘baptism’ with ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ plus my first real meeting with ‘Crosby G&S’ although we have bumped into each other on our District Zoom Meetings. So can I please take this opportunity to thank everyone connected with Crosby G&S for inviting my wife Susan and I to your production, for your warm welcome and your hospitality throughout and for inviting me back stage at the end of the evening to meet and speak with the cast.
Susan and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and we are already looking forward to our next encounter with Crosby G&S and their production of ‘The Mikado’ next April.
Keep safe and stay well….
District 6 Rep