“The Yeomen of the Guard”. Review - A Merryman and His Maid Deconstructed

“The Yeomen of the Guard” is on parade in the Bay Area.  Gilbert and Sullivan fans may turn out and salute as should anyone who appreciates a musical show delightfully performed.  From the opening, “When maidens loves, she sits and sighs” to the closing,  “I have a song to singo, O!”, the company is the star, as usual, in a Lamplighters performance. Nevertheless, this Gilbert and Sullivan offering is different from virtually all others

 

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Most of the Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvre is a commentary, if not spoof of British class relations. Yeoman as indicated by its title, operates in a relatively equal plane. Its central characters are neither high nor low but rather represent an incipient middle class independent personages, whether as traveling theatrical performers; members of an elite guard unit, made up of individuals who have earned distinction through their assiduous service in support rather than command roles and other persons, neither from the high or low reaches of society but from its emerging middle classes, espousing an ethic of choice in matrimonial partners and life choices. Even if they start high; they are forced lower by force of circumstances like the Colonel who must enter the guise of a Yeoman to survive.

  

Lamplighters Music Theatre present Gilbert & Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. Julia Mulholland as Elsie Maynard (double cast with Patricia Westley) and Jacob Botha as Jack Point (double cast with F. Lawrence Ewing). Photo by Joe Giammarco, 2017

To what extent can feelings prevail over economic considerations in gender relations? Whereas in the upper class plays gender relations are typically happily sorted to almost everyone’s satisfaction by the ending; the Yeoman’s middleclass scene is more realistic with many unrequited feelings left on the table. A Yeoman in agriculture is a small independent farmer; in the armed forces it is the ranks above private but below the officer class. In short, yeomen are the emerging middle class of British society concerned with attaining political as well as economic rights.

  

Lamplighters Music Theatre present Gilbert & Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. Robby Stafford as Sergeant Meryll (double cast with Jonathan Spencer) and Sonia Gariaeff as Dame Carruthers (double cast with Deborah Rosengaus). Photo by Lucas Buxman, 2017

Science, Industry and Government

 

"The Yeoman of the Guard" expresses a theme of economic as well as political transformation.  A maiden at a spinning wheel opens the play in the pre-industrial era, before home production, and the individual foot power was displaced by water and steam power as the motive force of rows of  jennies  in factory tandem. Phoebe Merryl, played by Michelle Schroeder,  is a saucy independent woman who has taken a liking from afar to the prisoner whom she has viewed exercising. An insurgent movement is organized. To save the hero, an escape is arranged jailer diverted, keys stolen, prisoner released. The Sergeant of the Guard’s son, Leonard also a Yeoman admirer of the Colonel, arrives on the scene and agrees to disappear, allowing the Colonel to take his place in the Guard.

  

Julia Mulholland as Elsie Jacob Botha as Point Photo by Joe

The prisoner, Colonel Fairfax, is a scientist cum alchemist, in an era before the separation of the two roles and disciplines.  Indeed, the plot turns around his presumed association with the Devil and condemnation to death as a subterfuge to steal his fortune. A military hero in his early years the Colonel has become vulnerable.  Leaving behind his high status and entering an emerging controversial occupation that has not yet become fully accepted, he has placed himself at risk. The melodramatic story may be read as an allegory of the rescue of an incipient science from its thrall to magic in the course of the Industrial Revolution as science infused production techniques supersede craft handwork and secure the status of science as a bulwark to industrial development and national power based upon this new premise.

  

Lamplighters Music Theatre present Gilbert & Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. Patricia Westley as Elsie Maynard (double cast with Julia Mulholland) and F. Lawrence Ewing as Jack Point (double cast with Jacob Botha). Photo by David Allen, 2017

The Lamplighters are always an ensemble, yet, F. Lawrence Ewing stands out for verve of performance as Jack Point. Jack is the most clearly delineated character, setting forth his Jester’s occupational strategy with wit and acerbity. Charles Martin as Wilfred Shadbolt, head jailor and assistant tormentor comes a close second in describing his role in the prison system. Colonel Fairfax, the presumable protagonist is a relative background figure, whether as  prisoner or disguised in a Guard’s attire. Science is an underground occupation in the operetta’s era the authors miss the opportunity to directly contrast the emerging formal mode of investigation with the Jester’s “seat of the pants” response to his audiences. Fairfax provides a key turning point in the plot by suggesting a marriage that would be expectedly short term given his coming execution in order to thwart nefarious designs on his estate. Jack Point’s ensuing conundrum, whether to give up his intended bride and thereby relieve their economic stress, is resolved in favor of this stratagem

  

Lamplighters Music Theatre present Gilbert & Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. Julia Mulholland as Elsie Maynard (double cast with Patricia Westley), Patrick Hagen as Fairfax (double cast with Samuel Faustine), and Jacob Botha as Jack Point (double cast with F. Lawrence Ewing). Photo by Lucas Buxman, 2017

Michael Leigh’s film, “Topsy Turvy”, portrayed the fraught relationship between librettist W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, one wanting to reach for Grand Opera; the other happy to entertain. Yeoman is the closest approximation to a swing of the pendulum to seriousness. Eschewing their usual spoofing of the absurdities of British class relationships as the redline that runs through plot absurdities in Pirates and the Mikado, This work features an incipient middle class revolt against the tyranny of state authority put into the service of personal revenge.

Lamplighters is celebrating its 65th year. Go to the Lamplighters website for further information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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