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Kentish Opera – The Yeomen of the Guard

There are several reasons for making the twenty-minute train journey from London Bridge to Sevenoaks for this Pro-Am production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most serious “comic opera”.

Kentish Opera: Yeomen of the Guard
Kentish Opera: Yeomen of the Guard

The first is to see the work of imaginative designer Carol Stevenson whose colourful costumes greatly enhance the show’s almost three-hour running time. The second is because the director, Stephen Brown, whose production is very traditional in other respects, has decided to include two songs cut from the original D’Oyly Carte production in 1888 because it was felt, justifiably, that they held up the action at the start of Act One. These are both well worth hearing occasionally, especially that for Wilfrid Shadbolt (A Jealous Torment….) as its words are particularly witty and Sullivan’s writing unusual and more complex than usual.

The third reason is that operetta and musical specialist Rosemary Ashe is playing the contralto role of Dame Carruthers, Keeper of The Tower of London, and watching her is like a master class in how G and S should be approached – that is with sincerity and a lightness of touch, especially in the dialogue. Facially she is in role throughout, reacting but never too much, always showing empathy to others on stage as well as using her gestures naturally. She has charisma and lifts a scene whenever she is on stage.

Others who are also excellent in role include Giles Davies as sixteenth-century jester Jack Point. He is able to give genuine poise and depth to this part, especially in his dialogue, and his Act Two scene with Wilfrid Shadbolt (Graham Stone) is one of the highlights of the show, being both witty and poignant.

Stefanie Kemball-Read manages to find great poignancy in the role of Elsie Maynard, Point’s partner, who is persuaded to marry someone who is about to be beheaded, but then isn’t! She is well able to express her joy facially and vocally when she discovers that her unknown husband is really the person she loves, her voice ringing out strongly to the rear of the auditorium.

Stephen Brown, the director, demonstrates a ringing tenor in the romantic lead role of Colonel Fairfax, and Louisa Alice-Rose quickly grows into the role of Phoebe, possessing an attractive mezzo-soprano. Her Father, Sergeant Meryll, is played by Ian Belsey.

The Stag Theatre is claimed to have the largest stage in south-east England which the whole production uses to good effect, even if one feels the lack of a choreographer in some of the musical numbers.

The amateur chorus acquits themselves well, as does the small orchestra under Robyn Sevastos, even if some of her chosen speeds are on the slow side, especially the overture.

A most enjoyable, recommendable evening in Sevenoaks!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Another first for Kentish Opera! A full production of ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’ by Gilbert and Sullivan, arguably one of their finest collaborations and possibly the most emotionally engaging of the Savoy Operas.

The story revolves around the hero Colonel Fairfax who is to be executed on a trumped-up charge. Fairfax needs to die a married man to secure his estate from the hands of his cousin and accuser. He secretly marries the blindfolded Elsie who expects to be a financially secure widow within the hour. Fairfax miraculously escapes his fate and chaos follows. A classic Gilbert and Sullivan story ensues.

Kentish Opera’s production is fully staged, costumed and features young soloists from major opera houses, orchestra under the baton of Robyn Sevastos (MD) and the superb Kentish Opera chorus. This production directed by Stephen Anthony Brown and costumes have been designed by Carol Stevenson.


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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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