The Yeomen of |the Guard

Director: Teddy Davies

Musical Director: Alastair Cockburn

Cast: Members of The Cape Town Gilbert and Sullivan Society and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra

Venue: Artscape Theatre

Rating: ***

A prefatory tribute to Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne not only gives a topical twist to this production of The Yeomen of the Guard, it also underscores the essentially English character of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera.

After this auspicious start, expectations of quality entertainment are confirmed: cohesive direction of the accompanying Cape Philharmonic Orchestra from Alastair Cockburn delivers an ear-pleasing overture which is, untypically, a more sophisticated composition than the usual melodic collage from the work to follow.

Tina Driedijk’s evocative and functional set exploits Artscape Theatre’s revolving stage to good effect, capturing the aura of the Tower of London in Tudor times, while Penny Simpson’s tasteful costumes are faithful to 16th century style.

Among the vocalists entrusted with lead roles, Liesl Hartje steals the show as Elsie Maynard, the strolling singer who ends up married to the man she loves after many an imbroglio: she has a strong stage presence and a full, sweet voice which musters the requisite projection in this venue – Artscape Theatre has acoustics more sympathetic to drama than to musical productions.

This accounts to some extent for lack of clarity in the diction of several of the cast members, who, particularly in the first act, give the impression of addressing their beards rather than the audience.

Tenor Ferdi Oosthuizen (Colonel Fairfax, beloved of Elsie) was in good voice on opening night, but his exuberant gestures and restless body language distract from the quality of his execution. Of the secondary personae, Wyno Simes (Lieutenant of the Tower), Adri Louw (Dame Carruthers), and David Bolton (Head Jailer) do justice to the vocal, dramatic, and comic demands of their several roles.

Lara Milne (Phoebe) is deliciously feminine, and Graham Boxall gives an authoritative reading of the tragic Jester, Jack Point.

A highlight is the unaccompanied Quartet of Act Two, as Dame Carruthers, her niece Kate (Sian Atterbury), Fairfax and Sergeant Meryll unite in melodious rendition that would not be out of place in professional opera.

Bravo to Teddy Davies, whose well-judged direction has resulted in a production that reminds one that “amateur” means “for the love of”, not “unprofessional”.