PRINCESS IDA – Finborough Theatre, London.
It has been a very good start to the year for Gilbert and Sullivan fans with a few productions already hitting London stages to positive reception. This production of Princess Ida is set to join them, a great example of a modern influence on the Victorian pair’s work.
The story follows the beautiful Princess Ida, heir to a kingdom, and the suitors wishing to lay claim to her hand. They are not the only ones, as her guardian, Gama, also has plans along those lines. Things are disrupted for all concerned when Prince Hilarion arrives and explains that since their marriage when she was one year old (and he was two) they have been husband and wife so no further marriage can take place. In the meantime, Ida has taken control of a university for women, and has been teaching her pupils that women really have no need for men. Things come to a head when Hilarion and friends dress as girls to enter the university to try to tempt Ida back to the world of men. As you may expect, this causes a war with the castle being stormed by angry men and the women of the university called upon to defend it.
All in all, it’s great fun. Call it whatever you like, a romp, a caper, the key thing here is it’s the mischievous Gilbert and Sullivan at their musical prime. The work never reached the profile of the later Mikado for example, but the music (performed ably here on two pianos by Richard Baker and Nick Barstow) is superb. The most notable song here is Hilarion and Ida’s ‘The World Is But A Broken Toy’, a touching song, almost a ballad, that should be seen.
Simon Butteriss comes out victorious with his flamboyant and indulgent patter performance as the guardian Gama, and Simeon Oakes, as the perpetually lustful Prince Cyril, also gives an excellent performance. Top marks all round though for a highly enjoyable and bountiful show. Director Phil Willmott has shifted some things about, the hints at non-traditional relationships between the men and women don’t seem too Victorian, but the impressively strong calls for women’s rights ring true and bold. The song ‘Come Mighty Must’ could find purchase today as a new feminist anthem. Coming across a little immature and complicated at times, it may not be for everyone, but if you know and like G&S then you’re in for a winner.
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By Karl O’Doherty
24th March – 18th April 2015
Finborough Theatre, London, SW10 9ED.