Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
He has a song to sing-o, of a merryman and his maid
The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA is well-known for good, often excellent productions of Gilbert and Sullivan works and related material. Often the productions rise to outstanding, like earlier this year's Mikado, one of the best I've ever seen (and I've seen a few over the years, amateur and professional).
The Gentlemen of the Guard (Photograph courtesy of the G & S Society)
This year's offering is the seldom-performed Yeoman of the Guard, among the pair's last collaborations (only Gondoliers, Utopia Ltd and The Grand Duke to follow) and Sullivan's mind was much taken up with Grand Opera (his only true opera, Ivanhoe, came out only a year later.)
Having eschewed Gilbert's first idea, a typical farce based on people taking pills and become the people they pretended to be, Gilbert came back with an outline entirely without his usual topsy-turvey. True, people pretend to be people they're not, but it actually fits into the plot rather well and almost believably.
Emily and Liam in rehearsal (Photograph courtesy of the G & S Society)
The music is among Sullivan's best and has several departures in structure from the previous more comic operas. Not that it doesn't have comic moments and some more than usually funny parts, but it is considerably darker in tone than any of the others. And has (spoiler alert) a probable death in it – a real departure from the froth of, say, The Pirate of Penzance.
Paris, Chad, Glenn and Avalon in Yeoman (Photograph courtesy of G&S Society)
This particular production is directed by Michael Brett, a long-time dance accompanist directing his first production. Not an easy task for a first-time director, Yeoman of the Guard has a very large cast and the Dolphin has a moderately sized stage, consequently the blocking wasn't all that it might have been and action was limited.
Lighting was also somewhat imaginative and less effective than it might have been, although I do appreciate the difficulties faced by the technicians.
There is also a fine line between side business and up-staging and at least one aria was spoiled for me by some imaginative train work – admirable in itself, but which did no favours to the singer with the tricky aria.
Phoebe (Marli van der Bijl) looking disconsolate (Photograph courtesy of the G & S Society)
But there was much to admire – costumes were lovely, the chorus worked well together and there were some stand-out performances. Marli van der Bijl was her usual effortlessly lovely professional self, handling the difficult task of Phoebe with ease. As an example of the difference, Yeoman opens not with a big, full chorus number, but with a plaintive solo, from the half-dark of the mini-thrust.
Liam Auhl, an engaging newcomer, acquitted himself with honour in the very difficult role of Jack Point, strolling Fool and player, who possess an antic walk and what Patrick Dennis would call 'the thinnest shanks in Christendom', as well as honourable mentions for Glenn Rowan as Sergent Meryll (lovely comic reactions) and Avalon Rector as the redoubtable Dame Caruthers.
Jack Point (Liam Auhl) (Photograph courtesy of the G & S Society)
In the role of the Dame's niece was the charming Paris Ceglinski, who has the most perfect Tudor face I've ever seen on stage. Chad Henderson (last year's Nanki-Pooh) was a suitably dashing hero with a warm, rich tone and his love interest was played by Emily Schinkel, classically trained by UWA.
Overall, the Yeoman of the Guard was a most enjoyable experience and I was so pleased that the G & S Society has revived this charming, profoundly musical production.
Fun fact: The character of the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Richard Cholmondeley, is the only character in all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas that is based on a historical figure. Cholmondeley was the Lieutenant of the Tower from 1513 to 1520.