Sunday, 23 August 2009

Yeomen (Peak Opera)

Of all the Savoy operas, Yeomen of the Guard is the most tragic and least comic - but it still has its comedy, and most of it doesn't come from the one character who claims to be funny. Yeomen has beautiful arias, strong emotions, and real characters. It can be performed superbly, but it can also fail in a most spectacular disaster.

Tonight's show took neither extreme. There were a number of points at which things threatened to come undone, but it came together again. Some unusual pieces of business, which is a good thing; some of them worked, but others definitely did not.

The set had numerous entrances and exits, always a good thing when dealing with the inevitable issue of wing congestion, but one of them puzzled me. An open portcullis led to the prompt-side wing; was this leading out of the Tower, to the street beyond? to an inner protected area? to something else? Shadbolt, Leonard, Fairfax, and the chorus of villagers all used it, so it doesn't make perfect sense any which way. Still, it did its job of getting large numbers of people on and off stage efficiently.

Musically, the show was a little mixed too. Most of the difficult sections (such as the counterpoint in "Tower Warders") held together just fine, but while people were rushing on stage, milling around, and so on, things got messier - perfect proof of why everyone needs to watch the conductor. Ensemble harmony was reasonably good, although the altos and basses could have done with augmentation at a few places; Strange Adventure sounded excellent.

Richard Miller had been slated to play Fairfax, but at the last moment had to withdraw, and Chris Diffey stepped in. He could claim one of Julia Jellicoe's lines: "I flatter myself I can do justice to any part on the very shortest notice". His performance stood out magnificently; of all those on the stage, he was the most consistently audible in his singing, and the most believable in his acting. Such an absolute cad of a character, though - not only does he steal Elsie away from Jack, he even hires an assassin (the Second Citizen (Stuart Pinel)) to, I kid you not, murder the hapless Point with a dagger. That was a rather odd ending; the audience didn't really know what to make of it, and the applause was rather dodgy for a while.

Looking at the rest of the cast: A very operatic Elsie Maynard (Alexandra Saunders) sang beautifully, but being paired up with such an excellent Fairfax made her acting appear poor. Jack Point (Liam Geoghegan) truly loved her, although his character had few other sides to it that were as well fleshed out. Kimmo Eriksson, who played Leonard Meryll (the REAL Leonard, the other is butter-substitute), was barely recognizable when he appeared with the chorus. (I've seen it when Leonard was instantly obvious in his other part, and it was quite confusing. Much safer to not double up at all, of course, as long as your Leonard is happy to sit idle a lot.) In his second act scene, he gave a genuine hug to Phoebe, who seemed to have learned to appreciate him - in the first act, she was almost cold towards him, which he hardly deserved, even though he had no reprieve for the Colonel! Phoebe (Lucy Appleyard) had a lovely voice, with a good low register for "tears that bliiiiiiiiister" in "When a wooer goes a wooing". The Lieutenant of the Tower (William Revels) brought his very own brand of fun and energy to the show, which was not unwelcome. The First and Second Yeoman (Stuart Bull and Joe Lowe) also sang the Third and Fourth Yeomen parts, respectively, which I suppose turns them from bit parts into two-bit parts. The other tiny part, Kate (Karen Richmond), was also somewhat enhanced; in the dialogue before Strange Adventure, she was quite clearly interested in "Leonard" (the Margarine). In the song, also, she sang with distinction. Dame Carruthers (Angela Lowe) was unfortunately a little hard to hear in Strange Adventure, but for the rest of the show she was more audible. She and Sgt Meryll (David Lovell) had a constant by-play going on, making his line about shunning her like the plague quite believable. And, saving the best for last: Wilfred Shadbolt (Gareth Edwards). He was nominated for Best Male Performer, and deservedly; he was probably the best performer in the entire company. He had a rather peculiar habit of keeping one hand on his leather vest as much as he possibly could, as though he had to hold it in place lest it blow away; it was noticeable during his first scene with Phoebe, and then maintained consistently right through till the final curtain. A good voice, too, when he got a chance to sing; he would have done justice to Jealous Torments, had it been included, but it was not.

A few pieces of stage business deserve extra mention. Just before Elsie was to be blinded and taken off to meet her doom (err, I mean, her husband), Shadbolt entered - blowing his nose. On the same handkerchief that was used on Elsie's eyes! Ewww! (Of course, for the sake of the stage he was only pretending, but poor Elsie...) Later on, when Fairfax was trying to convince Elsie to ignore her husband and elope with him (just before "Hark, what was that sir"), she slapped him on the face, which almost made up for the disappointingly crude gunshot that followed it. And Phoebe, though unremarkable for a lot of the show, did do a good job of Were I Thy Bride, with her fingers wandering for a long time over Wilfred's noisy keys, and at the end of the song, her father sent them back to her via halberd, which worked well.

I have to be honest and say that the show did not really live up to my expectations; Yeomen can be done really really well. But it was not the worst show I've ever seen, either. It received nominations for Best Male Performer (for Shadbolt) and Best Concerted Number (for Strange Adventure), which were appropriate, but was hardly in the running for the overall championship.


Rachel said...

I'm sure that our make-up people would be pleased to read that you didn't spot Kimmo Eriksson in the Yeomen's chorus whenever he was not on stage as the real Leonard

David England said...

I certainly spotted him in the chorus, sporting a somewhat interesting beard - but then, I had been briefed beforehand by a kind lady called Rachel ...

Chris Angelico said...

Heh. Congratulations to make-up then; you made him unrecognizable from the gallery. (Whether or not he could be spotted by people sitting closer to the stage I cannot say.) Post amended - thanks!

David England said...

While we are in a nit-picking mood, I didn't spot any Second Yeoman on stage. Joey [sic] Lowe was billed in the brochure, but Joe sang the role dressed as Sir Richard Cholmondley's secretary.

I was impressed by young Mr Lowe's stage presence, as well as by his stamina: he was spotted consuming a hearty fish supper less than an hour before the performance, at a time when most people I know would be more likely to be throwing up than stocking up.