Gilbert and Sullivan's unique mix of opera and musical theatre is reflected in this year's castMichael Lee

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society is a large but often understated presence in Cambridge Theatre. Dedicated to performing the late Victorian operettas of dramatist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan, they put on five shows a year. The Michaelmas show is a firm fixture in this schedule, priding itself on reserving principal roles for those who are new to Cambridge or have never taken a main role with the society before. Gilbert and Sullivan’s unique mix of opera and musical theatre is reflected in this year’s cast, ranging from those fresh from performing in ‘A Chorus Line’, to choral scholars from across a broad selection of college chapels.

The operetta deviates from the duo’s usual Victorian setting as an historic throwback in the reign of Henry VIII. Colonel Fairfax (Fraser Rosser-Smyth) has been sentenced to death for sorcery and awaits execution. Determined to outwit his cousin and accuser, he must marry before his death so this his inheritance will not pass to anyone else (cue a plot of fake incest and deception). As Fairfax and his friend Sergeant Meryll (Harry Camilleri) plot, their lives become irrevocably entwined with those of Jack Point (Jonathan Eddyshaw) and Elsie Maynard (Anna Cooper), two strolling players.

Director, Victoria Gray, currently studying for an MPhil in Medieval History, describes how she has put her degree to good use in capturing the historic flavour of the piece. “The specificity of ‘Yeomen’’s setting lends itself perfectly to the show’s mood, giving me the opportunity to incorporate historical nuances into the blocking that would be lost on any other G&S show. Its plot and characters have a depth and complexity to rival any ‘serious’ work of drama on a Cambridge stage, with the show being famous for its strikingly bittersweet ending. It’s not a grittily realistic historical drama by any means - G&S will always be a bit silly - but it’s still great drama, with fantastic music to boot.”

"G&S will always be a bit silly - but it's still great drama, with fantastic music to boot"Michael Lee

The operetta is renowned for its complex and beautiful musical score. Richard Decker, Musical Director, describes how he has bought this to life working with a 25-piece orchestra and in sing-throughs with cast members. “I’ve always liked a challenge, that’s why I wanted to take on this MD job”. He continued: “The G&S Freshers’ show is always a risky one, given it’s primary purpose of introducing new members to the mystical world that is Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. This is particularly the case with Yeomen, which undoubtedly has the hardest score to perfect out of any of the Savoy operas. However, the cast have done a phenomenal job at getting their heads round all the notes with elegance and refined style. The orchestral players too have been an absolute dream to work with – considering the complexity of some of those violin parts, I was amazed at how easily they were able to play through everything at our very first rehearsal”.

"the cast have done a phenomenal job at getting their heads round all the notes with elegance and refined style" 


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In stagger-throughs this weekend, the cast had the opportunity to watch the whole show as it was stitched together for the first time. The atmosphere was one of excited enthusiasm, with the powerful complexity of the chorus numbers punctuated by sharp humour in the libretto, deftly delivered by the leads. Particularly enjoyable was watching the chorus’ reactions as they heard Eddyshaw’s exuberant jester rattling off some of his many tongue-twister monologues (and terrible puns) for the first time in a group rehearsal. There is a genuine sense of enthusiasm and fun among the cast members as they undertake the complex task of committing choreography and music to memory. Whether you’re interested in comedy, opera, or musical theatre in general, this is a production not to be missed.

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