Review: Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’ @ Exeter Northcott

The Yeomen of the Guard, presented by Exeter University’s Gilbert and Sullivan society, is the final of three student productions at the Northcott theatre this January, following EUTCo’s Lord of the Flies and Footlights’ Oklahoma!. The plot is centred around the Colonel Fairfax (George Protts), who is wrongly accused of sorcery and sentenced to death. In an attempt to preserve his estate, he secretly weds a strolling singer, Elsie Maynard (Hannah Timson), only to miraculously survive. What ensues is a Shakespearean-style comedy of mistaken identities, enhanced by operatic song and traditional dance.

Much of the principal cast portrayed their characters with confidence, and their performances were enriched by authentic and consistent accents. George Newman (Wilfred Shadbolt) was one of the stand-out actors, with his impeccable comedic timing and ability to make his oafish character genuinely endearing to the audience. Some cast members could have introduced more shades of emotion into their performances, to refrain from falling into cliché and monotony, but, on the whole, the complex plotline was acted in a way that was clear and effective. While the direction at times wasn’t very imaginative, perhaps this traditional approach was necessary to convey a plot that often becomes difficult to follow.

Sullivan’s operatic musical numbers will not please everyone, but it is clear that the members of the Yeomen cast relish the challenge of their parts. Hannah Timson (Elsie Maynard) must be praised for her truly excellent singing, and her consistency of delivery. Many other members of the principal cast were also impressive in this aspect, including Poppy Clarke, who portrayed the Dame Caruthers. However, given the difficulty of the songs, it is understandable that the singing wasn’t always perfect. Nevertheless, the creative team should be proud of the beautiful harmonies and countermelodies which were often very effectively delivered. Also, the orchestra, led by musical director Edward Dunne, were excellent.

The elements of dance, choreographed by Rebecca Baynes, are functional, and fit in well with the style of the production. A short ballet sequence stands out from the rest of the choreographed marching and bustling, which could have been expanded on to great effect. However, as is expected, the greatest focus of Yeomen is not dance, but rather the music, singing, and plotline.

One of the most exciting elements of the entire production was the costumes, coordinated by costume manager Luke Howlett. The bright red uniforms, long gowns, and matching ensemble outfits truly brought the production to life. Sadly, the set did not do the production justice: the white tape marking out the features of the Tower of London and the mismatching platforms are just two of the elements marking Yeomen out as a student production. Furthermore, the production could have been enhanced further by a greater variation of props and pieces of movable set.

Overall, Yeomen was a pleasing production: the traditional storyline was convincingly executed by a talented cast, and aided by a proficient orchestra and some excellent costumes. While a small polish is needed in other areas of the performance, G&S’s Northcott production of The Yeomen of the Guard remains enjoyable, and should be recommended to all those who enjoy the work of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Alice Walters

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