Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Oxbridge: Yeomen of the Guard

As this is the show Savoynet will be doing, in which I shall have a starring role, I took this opportunity to practise my lines, singing along enthusiastically with all the headsman's assistants' solo lines.

I shan't be reviewing the Savoynet show, having as mentioned a certain involvement in it, so I'm hoping someone else can take that on. Actually, I'd like someone to post comparison reviews of both, if only for curiosity value :) This show has been excellent, and I would like to think that Savoynet's can challenge it in quality while giving some different directorial and characterization choices. We'll see!

The principal cast is of high standard, with no noteworthily poor members (even the one who mangled a few lines tonight wasn't terrible, and the "dynamically altered" lines weren't particularly far wrong). Starting with the patter man, Jack Point (Jordan Bell): energetic, enthusiastic, vocally strong, and always alert to what's happening. Also a very sympathetic character; the chorus really wanted to know what would be the answer to his final "song to sing O", though I suspect that may have been more about Elsie (Prudence Sanders), given the derision they offered to Point. Elsie definitely earned their, and our, admiration; and the chorus didn't get to hear her beautiful "Tis done". I've no idea what taught Col Fairfax (Pablo Strong) to love her, nor her him (other than his money); perhaps he couldn't have had his pick of higher-class ladies, given what an absolute cad he is. I detest this Fairfax, and admire Pablo. In some Yeomens I've seen, Fairfax is fairly sympathetic, and we want him to end up with the girl. This time, I just wanted to see him perish ignominiously on the spot, or at very least get ducked in the horsetrough (yes, there's a good-sized horsetrough on the stage, and it gets used, eg Elsie washing her hands in it). Certainly he won't get much support from Phoebe (Katie Slater), who woke up a bit on realizing she was losing him and became a rather less spineless and flat maiden. Through most of the first act, she lacked fire (which seems a little odd, given the profuse words of love she says at times), but with the switching across of Fairfax's attentions, she became quite interestingly angry. Of course, she's only angry at the fake Leonard dolt, not the real Leonard dolt (Thomas Drew), who is hardly on stage long enough to earn anyone's antagonism. His father Sgt Meryll (David Milner-Pearce) calls him over, gives him money, sings a trio with him, and then sends him off... and promptly starts a capital plot (that is, one that involves capital crimes) with Phoebe, who does a rather effective trick of wielding Wilfred Shadbolt (Ben Lewis) as skilfully as she wielded the spinning wheel earlier. Whenever she sits down, he takes it as a hint to go over there... once the keys are on the dais, she sits half a mile off (like this), calling him over. And he was not sorry to follow her. He's a brute, perhaps, but not so brutish that we want to see him fail. Maybe he doesn't deserve Phoebe, but he does deserve someone. Of course, that's assuming he isn't executed on the spot by the Lieutenant of the Tower (Thomas West) for his negligence in letting a condemned man get away. The Lieut's mastery of the tower was considerable - whenever he was on stage, he owned the place. Fairfax would not dream of addressing his old friend without explicit permission. (That scene was actually the best I remember seeing it performed, ever. It usually ends up having some clumsiness in the interests of stagecraft. This rendition arranged good stagecraft around the obvious requirements of the characters.) Finally, without any sort of plausible link to the previous entry, Dame Carruthers (Clara Kanter) had me wanting to see her an elderly spinster, never married but a highly respected Tower of London historian. She'd do well at it, she has all the knowledge and experience she could want.

The technical aspects of the show were a mixed bag ranging from superb to slightly sub-par. The arquebus sound effect was HIGHLY effective (it beat by several orders of magnitude the arquebus from the first Yeomen I was involved with - done with a fist on a metal cabinet), the set was excellent (except for the fact that, as was also noted by the Festival Adjudicator, movement behind the US door could be visible and distracting), but the lighting did seem to lack something in a few places; most notably, the show would have been greatly improved by the use of a couple of follow spots, which is where I prove to you that I'm not exactly unbiased, and stop writing.

I said about Grand Duke that rewriting Gilbert's words requires a similar level of skill to his. This Yeomen had one small example of a rewrite that can work quite well. When Point enters in the second act with the Merrie Jestes of Hugh Ambrose", the wording is slightly changed to incorporate a pun involving a saw, a sage, and a sausage (pronounced "saw-sage"). If someone took note of the exact words used and to what extent the tale was altered, I'd appreciate it being posted in a comment - thanks!

As David Turner, the adjudicator, noted, this was a splendid evening.

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