Princess Ida – Review

Apr 5 2014 | By More

★★★★☆   Grace and frivolity

King’s Theatre Edinburgh: Tue 1 – Sat 5 April 2014

Uplifting grace and outmoded comedy combine in equal measures for the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s new production of Princess Ida which plays at the King’s all week.

Rae Lamond and Susanne Horsburgh. Photo © Simon Boothroyd

Rae Lamond and Susanne Horsburgh. Photo © Simon Boothroyd

Written when Gilbert and Sullivan were reaching the peak of their popularity and just before the Mikadoreviewed at the Roxy Arthouse last weekPrincess Ida itself finds its own set of internal contradictions.

On the one hand Sullivan’s music is some of his best – it got contemporary tongues wagging in 1894 and still gladdens the heart. On the other, Gilbert’s plot is a tirade against female education that is based on attitudes which were out-dated even before he wrote it.

The charm of Edgas’s production is that it balances Gilbert’s anti-emancipation plot with a set of female performers who far surpass the men. Not that the men are bad, just that the women provide the hottest notes – notably Gillian Robertson in the title role, whose voice alone lifts the whole production by several notches.

Musical director David Lyle leads a solid and well-balanced orchestra – who not only give a great account of the music, but sound as if they are enjoying themselves. If the production is a bit static, that is largely because so many of the chorus are on stage for so much of the time – ensuring that the balance between pit and stage equally strong.

Gilbert’s plot – based on Tennyson’s poem The Princess – sees King Hildebrand and his son Hilarion at loggerheads with King Gama over Hilarion’s betrothal to Gama’s daughter, Ida.

Using a neat combination of tableaux and projections, director Alan Borthwick sets out the back story during the overture: the contract was sealed 20 years previously – when the children were babies – and the day has come for Gama and Ida to turn up for the nuptials.

Act 1, in Hildebrand’s castle, is standard G&S operetta, with laughs, puns and sparkling little tunes. It gives plenty of space for frivolity and entertainment as Matthew Sielewicz-Stanhope’s jaunty Hildebrand sets out his stall, complete with singularly bloody promise of battle if Ida doesn’t show up.

The likelihood of battle only increases with the arrival of Ida’s trio of warrior brothers and then Gama himself, who Ian Lawson creates as a hook-nosed, stooped hunchback. Lawson has great fun in drawing out Gama’s list of misanthropic qualities as he introduces himself.

The  problem for Hilarion’s marriage intentions is that Ida has not only taken up philosophy but has foresworn the company of men and set up a female-only college at Castle Adamant which she has no intention of leaving – let alone to get married.

“perpetrator of many convoluted conundrums”

While the two kings and the brothers want to slug it out, Scott Barron’s cute Hilarion and his pals Cyril (Chris Cotter) and Florian (Farlane Whitty) are rather more taken with the idea of a castle full of maidens. Taking matters into their own hands, they set off to Adamant intent of changing Ida’s heart with love alone.


The ensemble. Photo © Simon Boothroyd

Swooping off to Castle Adamant itself and the meat of what, at times, feels like full scale opera, Acts II and III find time to mock Ida’s educational ideals and set love to bring it back to heal. Along the way there’s time to have a laugh at Darwin’s ideas of evolution.

All of which pales into inconsequence in the light of performances. Robertson is utterly superb as Princes Ida; if her opening aria, Minerva! Oh hear me were on CD you’d be putting it on repeat. But then Edgas trumps it by finding space to add some modern little twists and words to her long tirade against man and his treatment of woman.

Rae Lamond is in splendid form as Lady Blanche, the lecturer on abstract philosophies and perpetrator of many convoluted conundrums which she enunciates superbly. Fiona Main is in equally fine of voice as Lady Psyche, the humanities professor who first discovers young Prince Hilarion and his pals cross-dressed as pupils. Both ensure that the internal politics of Castle Adamant are well brought out.

Lust is not only on the side of the boys – Susanne Horsburgh has plenty in her eyes as Lady Blanche’s daughter, who falls for the trio of lads. There is solid support right down the chorus, with Sarah Kim, Liz Landsman and Coroline Kerr, all adding strong voices in minor named roles.

For all of the outmoded nonsense, Borthwick and Lyle ensure that their audience has a great time in Castle Adamant. Act II is a succession of gorgeous musical numbers while the well-paced Act III pings along nicely with the pupils dressed for war, complete with outrageously horned helmets.

A solid and entertaining production which has something for everyone, the G&S fan and the casual visitor alike.

Running time 2 hours 50 mins (including two intervals)
Run ends Saturday 5 April 2014
Daily 7.30pm.
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tickets from
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