Guard of honour for G&S festival launch

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GILBERT and Sullivan season is upon us again; first up for me was Trent Opera.

Their Yeomen of the Guard came fresh from Gettysburg, the annual festival’s last stop before its three-week stay in Buxton.

Yeomen is a show which gives mature performers a chance to shine; the chorus consists mainly of retired soldiers and their middle-aged groupies. And shine they did, with some lively stage business and strong singing – and a hard to achieve but perfect five-second freeze during the Act One finale.

The principals were well up to Trent’s usual high standard, with flashes of pure brilliance. Unusually for an amateur company, they weren’t short of tenors. Not only were Joseph Shovelton and Andy McPhee (Fairfax and Leonard Meryll) top class, the minor semi-chorus roles also revealed more fine voices.

I’ve rarely seen such a jolly rendition of the signature number The Merryman and his Maid. Jack Point and Elsie Maynard were travelling players from up north, come to London to seek their fortune, both young and talented.

Alastair Massey’s Point balanced the comedy and pathos skilfully, and for once his tragic end made sense. Alexandra Saunders’s Elsie looked exquisite and sounded better; her pure soprano made effortless work of solos and ensemble numbers alike.

Jessica Nicklin was Phoebe, the bad girl with the best comic moments and a pretty mezzo voice, and she made the most of them all with great spirit and spot-on timing. Her hilarious mock-wooing of Stephen Godward’s head jailer Wilfred was a high point.

Wilfred himself was undoubtedly the star of a top-notch show: two thumbscrews short of a torture chamber, missing half his teeth, grating dead rat into his soup and a bass voice to die for.

Trent set the bar pretty high. This promises to be a Gilbert and Sullivan Festival to remember. LYNNE PATRICK