The Yeomen of the Guard at Poole Lighthouse

OUR passion for the Tudors continues unabated, with films, television dramas, historical novels – plus stage adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for the Royal Shakespeare Company at the end of this year – and now Bournemouth Gilbert and Sullivan Society joins the merry Tudor dance with The Yeomen of the Guard, a dark story of a brave soldier waiting to be executed for alchemy, two pretty young women in love with the same man and a sad clown.

Director Roberta Morrell and a first-class cast put on a memorable staging of this bleakest of the Savoy Operas at Poole Lighthouse this week.

This is no laugh-a-minute rollicking comic opera, but a story with death hanging over it, the brooding setting of Henry VIII’s Tower of London, a principal character who gets laughs as a torturer and a broken heart to bring down the curtain.

Gilbert had a way with words so of course there are laughs, and they come from the unexpected source of the blackest character, not the clown. Sullivan’s music too is splendid, stirring choruses and marches and poignant songs. Musically it is a demanding show for singers and orchestra, and this production is very well conducted by the society’s new musical director Keziah Jacombs, who brought out all the pomp and circumstance, the poignancy and the romance in this story of love.

Outstanding in the large cast were the always warmly humorous Robin Lavies as Sergeant Meryll, the glorious voiced Cherrill Ashford as Elsie Maynard, Bernard Gardener as Wilfred Shadbolt, the Head Jailor and Assistant Tormentor, who looks like a particularly grumpy Shrek and Roseanne Bowen as his adored Phoebe (who we hope will do the tormenting in that unlikely couple). Wilfred’s scene with the jester Jack Point trying to teach him the skills of his trade is one of the highlights of the show.

Ian Metcalfe’s Jack Point is, quite properly, the star of the show, and his is one of the finest performances I have seen of this difficult character. We expect to feel sorry for him – I remember tears all round in another production a few years ago as he collapsed at the end of his final “I have a song to sing.” Director and performer have made the decision not to engage our sympathy but to play Point as a Shakespearean bitter fool. We really don’t warm to him so the ending is all the more shocking. Very brave – congratulations to the whole company on a splendid production.


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