The Yeomen of the Guard

Feb 23 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     A classic with clarity

Festival Theatre: Wed 22 – Sat 25 Feb 2023
Review by Martin Gray

The good men and women of Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society do more than yeoman service as they present arguably the greatest Savoy opera at the Festival Theatre.

The addition of The Yeomen of the Guard’s seldom-heard musical numbers promises something extra for connoisseurs but even a standard staging would be great, given the production expertise of EDGAS.

The Yeomen of the Guard. Pic EDGAS

With the King’s Theatre closed for refurbishment, the show is at sister venue the Festival, whose massive stage is easily filled by a superb Tower of London set and a massive ensemble clad in striking 16th-century garb. The only problem with the set is that occasionally a principal singing at the back or side is lost.

For the most part, though, it’s loud and clear so far as the action is concerned. Said action centres on Colonel Fairfax (Sebastion Davidson), wrongly imprisoned in the Tower due to a rival’s lies. With execution imminent he manages to arrange a marriage to strolling player Elsie Maynard (Lorna Murray, sharing the role with Gillian Robertson) meaning his distinctly un-noble kinsman won’t inherit his estate.


For her part, marrying Fairfax without so much as laying eyes on him, Elsie is promised 100 crowns. Elsie’s own suitor, the jester Jack Point (Chris Cotter), is perturbed, but goes along with the plot, reassured that she’ll be a widow in no time at all.

Then there’s Phoebe Meryll (Leah Kincer-Christie), who has fallen for Fairfax while seeing him exercise, and Head Jailer Wilfred Shadbolt (Nathan Auerbach) who – you guessed it – is in love with Phoebe.

Sebastion Davidson, Leah Kincer-Christie, Lorna Murray and Chris Cotter. Pic: EDGAS

The set-up lends itself to lots of comedy and a surprisingly mean-spirited ending. The players do a cracking job with the lines, many of them surprisingly funny, with Cotter outstanding as jester Jack, especially when paired with wannabe wit Wilfred, the excellent Auerbach. They top off their funny business with the splendidly sung Hereupon we’re both agreed.

Which makes sense as, for G&S aficionados, it’s all about the music. In charge here is Musical Director David Lyle, resplendent in glittery shirt as he takes charge of the full orchestra. Things kick off with the overture, unusual in being a single tune rather than a preview of what’s to come, and after that the old favourites keep on coming, spotlighting character and moving the story along.

Highlights include Strange Adventure, sung a Cappella by Fairfax, his friend Sergeant Meryll (Brian Boardman giving a terrific comic turn), Tower housekeeper Dame Carruthers (Mairi Coyle) and her niece Kate (Arielle Firestone); and Wilfred’s When jealous torments rack my soul, one of the restored songs.

Mairi Coyle with Arielle Firestone. Pic: EDGAS

The opening to Act Two, Night has spread her pall once more, with Dame Carruthers leading the assembled Yeomen and crowd, is a marvellous picture of chaos following the disappearance of Fairfax just before his scheduled execution.

While undeniably a classic, that doesn’t stop Yeomen’s longer Act One feeling over-extended, especially with those restored songs. Still, the superb execution scene ensures it goes out with a bang.


Mike Pendlowski’s dramatic lighting and sound design helps here, with thunderclaps and lightning to spare, along with the foreboding figure of hooded executioner Steven Kincer-Christie, deathly still behind his axe. Kudos to director Alan Borthwick for this, a moment that’s typical of a clear-eyed production.

If you’re a G&S fan, this is the show for you, with talented amateurs giving their all to ensure The Yeomen of the Guard is as entertaining as it ever was. If not more so.

Running Time: Three hours (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000.
Wednesday 22 – Saturday 25 February 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Sebastion Davidson. Pic: EDGAS


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