The Yeomen of the Guard
Operetta in two acts with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan to a text by W. S. Gilbert [costumed and semi-staged]
Sir Richard Cholmondely – Leigh Melrose
Sergeant Meryll – Mark Richardson
Leonard Meryll – Tom Randle
Phoebe Meryll – Heather Shipp
Wilfred Shadbolt – Toby Stafford-Allen
Colonel Fairfax – Andrew Kennedy
Jack Point – Mark Stone
Elsie Maynard – Lisa Milne
Dame Carruthers – Felicity Palmer
Kate – Mary Bevan
BBC Concert Orchestra
Martin Duncan – Stage director
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 19 August, 2012
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
No sooner had I reviewed John Wilson’s Philharmonia Orchestra Yeomen of the Guard, at the Royal Festival Hall, than another was announced for the Proms. The Proms has a fine history in G&S and it was great to welcome back Jane Glover to take the helm of the BBC Concert Orchestra and a properly operatic cast, which outshone its Philharmonia counterparts with just one (originally unannounced) common member of the cast, Heather Shipp, who had already proved her mettle at the RFH. Here she took over from Victoria Simmonds in the role of Phoebe Meryll.
With just a spinning wheel (for Phoebe), an executioner’s block and the BBC’s backing dot-matrix system for once displaying something entirely appropriate (a daylight representation of the Tower, against a cloudless blue sky in the first Act, and a nocturnal version for the second), Martin Duncan’s economic production allowed us to concentrate on character and music in equal measure, with the BBC Concert Orchestra pushed back to afford a sizeable acting area. Fully costumed for the named parts (the BBC Singers – becoming something of an operatic chorus of choice – in black, with the men sporting yeomen rosettes to indicate their status), Duncan transplanted the action from the 16th- to the 19th-century, so that Mark Stone’s excellent Jack Point had no need to don a jester’s hat, sporting instead a blue-turquoise frock-coat and bright waistcoat. Even his capering – characterised by a slow, lolloping skip – seemed suffused with melancholy, as if jesting was a lost art in Victorian Britain.
Indeed the wonder of Yeomen is that it confounds expectations. Ending with three vastly compromised couples and Jack Point falling “insensible”, let alone the saddest of G&S finales (a heartrendingly poignant reprise of ‘Merry Man and His Maid’), Yeomen can claim to be one of the greatest of the pair’s Savoy Operas, and here was performed as if a masterpiece, with some wonderful singing married to subtle characterisation.
Dialogue was amplified; songs (rightly) were not. As ever with G&S it was the ensembles that shone – particularly in Act Two: the quartet ‘Strange Adventure’, the duo ‘Hereupon We’re Both Agreed’ for Point and Toby Stafford-Allen’s laconic Shadbolt and the typically contrary opinions of Dame Carruthers and Sergeant Meryll (the wonderful Felicity Palmer and Mark Richardson) in ‘Rapture, Rapture’ (Meryll’s response being ‘Doleful, Doleful’). There were some beautiful solo arias, too – it was great to hear Fairfax sung so beautifully (even if beard – later lost – and hair disguised Andrew Kennedy), and Mark Stone (again) was perfection in the show’s patter song ‘A private buffoon is a light-hearted loon’. Jane Glover inspired a warm aura to the accompaniment. Thankfully (unlike My Fair Lady at the top of the season) cameras were on hand to record the event – broadcast on Saturday 25 August, BBC2.