When Imogen Knott, Choreographer for Princess Ida, asked me to review their upcoming production, I immediately launched into an enthusiastic yes. Having never seen a G&S production before, I thought it perfect that I should go into a review blind to what G&S provide. Perhaps somewhat harshly, I attended their opening night. Yet I shouldn’t have worried – the night was a comical and somewhat bizarre explosion of musical talent brought by a clearly tight-knit cast.
To give some background to the Operetta, Princess Ida is daughter to King Gama, and has been promised to Prince Hilarion, the son of King Hildebrand, since infancy. However, she rejects this plan and starts up a woman’s university at Castle Adamant (appropriately named). Although Hildebrand is outraged and threatens to storm the castle if Ida does not consent to marry Hilarion, Hilarion and his two friends, Cyril and Florian, sneak into the university disguised as women…in order to somehow gain Ida’s love.
I used the word ‘bizarre’ earlier, and I meant that in the best of ways. Having never seen G&S before, or anything remotely like it, I was immediately overjoyed to see how much the cast lived up to the exaggerated plot line and comically engaged with the audience. The ensemble had brilliant characterisation and each was individual in their own right, yet came together in big cast numbers well. Although it was clear that there were not natural dancers in the ensemble, they worked together incredibly well and filled the stage with energy and general slickness. Combined with their characterisation and comic ability, it was charming to watch. One thing I would add, however, was that at times it seemed the ballet/dance ensemble were there to fill a gap onstage. Although they were lovely to watch and clearly all very talented, they distracted from the singing or dialect at times, which for me was so important in order to keep track of the plotline. However, it was clear Imogen has a wealth of ballet experience and the dance ensemble provided an interesting addition to the production.
the night was a comical and somewhat bizarre explosion of musical talent brought by a clearly tight-knit cast
What stood out to me in particular was the musical ability of the cast. The harmonies were tight-knit and perfectly in time with the orchestra, who were flawless in their own right. I did not realise the production would be without microphones, therefore I was overwhelmed by the standard of projection and how well the harmonies could be heard. The solo numbers were also very strongly projected – Katie Lockwood in particular had this ability as well as an outstanding vocal range. Unfortunately, one thing that was slightly disappointing with the solo numbers was the lack of diction. Because the plotline of Ida was so fast-paced, we relied on the singing to inform us what was happening, so sadly at times I got a little lost. This especially occurred when we reached Act III and a fight broke out between Hildebrand’s men and Ida’s women. It was a little alarming and perplexing, making the ending seem a little far-fetched in its neat conclusion (Ida consents to give Hilarion a chance and gives up her post), but this is more a comment on the plotline of Ida rather than on Gilbert & Sullivan.
Nicola Wilkes must be given credit for inserting female suffrage into the production. The end of Act II saw the female ensemble and Ida looking out into the audience holding up protest signs and wearing banners, insisting on the vote. This resonated powerfully with me, it was something that made the production a little more modern and relevant to the 21st century where women are still fighting for equality. The female ensemble as a whole stole it for me – the opening of the second Act was charming and enticing. The naivety of the girls combined with their affection for one another came across in their characterisation and their singing. To pick out a few key names, Amelia Hall as Dame Blanche in particular provided excellent wit, sternness and dry humour which contrasted to Ida’s sweetness perfectly. She made special effort to connect with the audience in her disgruntled attitude. Sarah Selley, who played her daughter Melissa, and Sky Cottis, ensemble, must also be given a mention. Their characters were very different – Melissa was sweet and endearing in both acting ability and vocally, and the connection between her and her mother was beautiful. Sky, on the other hand, was excitable and highly comical to watch, she was clearly always engaged with her character and stood out in the ensemble for me.
Overall, what was clear to me was the cast were enjoying themselves, so it was impossible not to enjoy it too. Alex Gordon (Hilarion), Edward Dunne (Cyril) and Sam Foster (Florian) were a brilliant comical trio and threw their comedy out to the audience, which went beyond them prancing about in skirts pretending to be women. The comedy only delivered because the cast clearly connected with each other off and onstage, bringing their characters and relationships to life. Though the production seemed a little dramatic to me at first, I soon relaxed into the humour and light-hearted nature of Princess Ida, and applaud Gilbert & Sullivan for their success.