A gem revived
Princess Ida by Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur S. Sullivan, The Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society, Corn Exchange, Ipswich NOT the most familiar of Gilbert and Sullivan's works, but all credit to the Ipswich G&S Society for reviving this gem of an operetta for what is only the fifth time in its illustrious history.
Princess Ida by Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur S. Sullivan, The Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society, Corn Exchange, Ipswich
NOT the most familiar of Gilbert and Sullivan's works, but all credit to the Ipswich G&S Society for reviving this gem of an operetta for what is only the fifth time in its illustrious history. The plot is even more inconsequential than most of the Savoy Operas, but the piece contains some very fetching music, especially the Princess' Act 3 ballad I built upon a rock, that deserves a wider hearing.
With the production's colourful Middle Ages setting and costumes we could almost be watching Spamalot, and, indeed, Gilbert's script, written, unusually, in Shakespearean style blank verse, has a lot of comic potential. A pity, therefore, that this is not as fully developed as it might have been.
The dramatic situation is a gift - uppity Princess Ida (a medieval feminist) decides that men are useless and immures herself in a castle which she turns into a girls-only university - Gilbert's topical dig at Girton, the all ladies Cambridge College. She ignores the fact, though, that she was betrothed, at the age of one, to a Prince twice her age (i.e. a two year old), and twenty years later he arrives at Castle Adamant to claim his bride. To gain admittance, he and his friends have to disguise themselves as girl students - plenty of scope here for some Carry-on type cross-dressing confusion, but much of the comedy fell rather flat.
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Musically, there is much to praise. Natasha Bennett looks lovely and sings ravishingly as the Princess, and Gerry Bremner makes an ardent Prince Hilarion. In smaller roles, Rosalind Atkins shines as Lady Psyche and Doug Birchall is gloriously gruff as the helmeted warrior Arac. Both of these admirable performers display that style and panache which is so essential to a good G&S production.
Of course, dating from the 1880s, the end of the story is irredeemably sexist. Princess Ida's stronghold proves short-lived, for as soon as it is attacked by the forces of King Hildebrand, her army of women completely wimp out. The medics decide they are too squeamish to tend to the injured, the fusiliers refuse to carry muskets in case they go off, and the military bandswomen are simply too nervous to play.
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Fortunately, there were no such nerves among the musicians in the splendid orchestra assembled by MD Andrew Burke. Their playing was one of the evening's great pleasures.