Review – The Yeomen of the Guard

Mar 20 2013 | By More

★★★☆☆    Needs more polish

King’s Theatre: Tue 19 – Sat 23, 2013

Soaring joy, daft patter and crushing melancholy are underpinned by a score tuned right into the events unfurling on stage in this occasionally brilliant The Yeomen of the Guard, which is at the King’s until Saturday.

Edgas, the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society, find many stylish moments over the course of the evening, thanks to strong direction from Alan Borthwick and musical direction from David Lyle in charge of a 28 strong band in the pit.

The Yeomen of the Guard. Photo: Ross Main

The Yeomen of the Guard. Photo: Ross Main

The difficulty is that most of them are in the second act. The first act, by contrast, contains rather too many wince-inducing moments for comfort. Some will no doubt be corrected over the run, although there are some weaknesses which are, sadly, structural.

Despite a hesitant – and sometimes untidy – overture, Sullivan’s score rides easily over all such disappointments as it supports and lightens Gilbert’s twisting tale of loves crossed.

Set in the Tower of London in the 16th century, Gilbert has two girls, Phœbe and Elsie, fall for the same man. Phœbe loves him as Colonel Fairfax, a doomed prisoner. Elsie knows him as Phœbe’s handsome brother Leonard – in reality the escaped Fairfax, hiding in plain view as a Yeoman of the Guard.

It opens brightly enough, thanks to a sparkling performance from Fiona Main as Phœbe, daughter of Sergeant Meryll of the Yeomen of the Guard. Declaring her love for Fairfax, she rejects her long-time suitor, the vile jailer, Wilfred Shadbot.

Main’s voice dances across the notes and she gives the words an easy understanding in When maiden loves she sits and sighs. Simon G Boothroyd, makes himself a thoroughly unpleasant Shadbot – you can quite understand her reticence towards his touch.


Chris Cotter provides a second highlight as Fairfax. But it is not until the arrival of a pair of strolling players, Elsie Maynard and Jack Point that it really begins to shine again.

Gillian Robertson (Elsie) and Geoff Lee (Point) entertain the ensemble with I have a song to Sing, O. Photo: Ross Main

Gillian Robertson (Elsie) and Geoff Lee (Point) entertain the ensemble with I have a song to Sing, O. Photo: Ross Main

Gillian Robertson has a strong, uplifting voice as Elsie, and Geoff Lee has a really strong presence as the jester, Point. Their duet, I have a song to Sing, O, is a real crowd-pleaser – in every sense.

It’s a credit to Alan Borthwick’s direction that the plot remains clear as Fairfax contrives to get married in order to stop his cousin inheriting his estate. Elsie consents to be his blindfold bride, knowing that he will be dead in half an hour when, a rich and young widow, she will be free to marry Point.

There are good points in the act, but not all the singers portraying the minor characters have the vocal abilities to carry their roles off. Even though the stage is miked they have neither the strength to deliver the tunes nor the technique to give them the colour they deserve.

And while there are some lovely moments from the chorus, particularly when the basses can be heard swelling up through the tune, there are also  jarring difficulties with timing. Not to mention a consistent difficulty in making out the words.

That said, the Act I finale: Oh, Sergeant Meryll, is it true, brings all the elements of chorus, soloists, staging, singing, music and acting together – with some beautifully realised effects from Ian Sommerville’s lighting design – to create a full and succulent moment of opera.

As a Gilbert and Sullivan specialist company, Edgas has included all of the Act I songs – including reinstating those which were in the original score but were cut by Gilbert and Sullivan for various reasons. They are interesting to hear, but they do extend the opening scenes, when you really want to get the plot up and running.

Act II has not such difficulties. After a rather underwhelming Night has spread, this swims past as a succession of beautifully realised numbers. Each feels like a high point.

Her voice fairly shimmers through the song

Lee gets his pattering chops round A private buffoon is a light hearted loon, with great verbal dexterity – keeping every syllable clear. He and Boothroyd have great fun with the comic Hereupon we’re both agreed. And Cotter shows his true colours with an excellent Free from his fetters grim.

Meryll (Craig Macbeth), Fairfax (Chris Cotter), Kate (Sarah Kim), Dame Carruthers (Barbara Brodie). Photo: Ross Main

Meryll (Craig Macbeth), Fairfax (Chris Cotter), Kate (Sarah Kim), Dame Carruthers (Barbara Brodie). Photo: Ross Main

The quartet, Strange adventure!, provides an opportunity to hear a performer whose abilities are well hidden throughout most of the production. Sarah Kim plays Kate, a character of little consequence as the niece of old Dame Carruthers, but her voice fairly shimmers through the song. It would be interesting to hear her in the role of Phœbe.

Not that Fiona Main is lacking in any way, as the act’s second quartet When a wooer goes a-wooing with Elsie, Phœbe, Fairfax and Point shows. But the very best is saved to the very last, with the false melancholy of the finale, when Elsie is told she has to marry Fairfax, little realising that the man she has fallen in love with and her forced husband are one and the same.

Here are all the emotions in the one song – which tingles with the excitement of knowing that it can all fall out well. At least for nearly everyone.

Running time 2 hours 50 mins.
Run ends Saturday 23 March 2013
Details on the Edgas website:

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