Set in the Tower of London, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 14th collaboration is their most emotionally engaging, tragedy and despair mixing with trademark wit and satire. Generally considered Sullivan’s finest, grandest score, it tells of a broken love affair between a Merryman (comedian Jack Point) and his Maid (comedienne Elsie Maynard) whose affections are ruthlessly re-directed elsewhere. Christopher Luscombe (Candide, Falstaff and Pagliacci) directs, John Andrews (Albert Herring and Precipice) conducts, Simon Higlett (Falstaff) designs, and the extensive cast brings together an impressive roster of British vocal talent, including Ellie Laugharne (Susanna and Elisa Doolittle) as Elsie, Nick Pritchard (Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park) as Colonel Fairfax, Graeme Broadbent as Sergeant Meryll, Angela Simkin (Meg Page and Hermia) as Phoebe Meryll and Heather Shipp as the indomitable Dame Carruthers. We place The Yeomen of the Guard high in the pantheon of great British operettas.
JUNE | 26 28 JULY | 1 6 8
- Composer — Arthur Sullivan
- Librettist — W S Gilbert
- Orchestra — Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
- Sung in — English
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- Act I
- Act II
~ Act I ~
Colonel Fairfax has been imprisoned in the Tower of London and sentenced to death. The daughter of one of the Yeomen Warders, Phoebe Meryll, is smitten with him, and consequently she’s rather irritated by the attentions of the Head Jailer, Wilfred Shadbolt, whose affection she returned before the arrival of the handsome Colonel.
Phoebe’s father, Sergeant Meryll, is delighted that his son Leonard has just been appointed a Yeoman as a result of his bravery on the battlefield, and he hopes that when Leonard arrives he might bring a reprieve for the Colonel. Sadly, this proves not to be the case. All three are eager to save Fairfax’s life and together they hatch a plan: Leonard will go into hiding, and the condemned man will disguise himself as the new Yeoman.
Fairfax enters, guarded by an escort of Yeomen. Sir Richard, the Lieutenant of the Tower, greets him sadly – they are old friends. The prisoner explains that he has been framed by his cousin, who stands to inherit his fortune if Fairfax dies unmarried. He therefore wishes to be married immediately to any amenable woman and thus foil his cousin’s wicked plot. He offers a financial reward and Sir Richard goes off in search of a potential bride.
Jack Point and Elsie Maynard, two travelling players, now appear, and they entertain the citizens of the Tower with a song and dance. In conversation with Sir Richard, they explain that Elsie’s mother is unwell, and they need funds to buy medicine. The Lieutenant seizes the moment and asks Elsie if she would be prepared to marry Fairfax before he dies. Jack has misgivings about this as he plans to propose to Elsie himself, but the financial inducement is too tempting for them both, and Elsie is led off for the secret ceremony. The Lieutenant tells Jack that there’s a vacancy at the Tower for the ancient post of Court Jester, and they go off to negotiate terms.
The Yeomen appear and are thrilled to meet the new recruit, whom they fully believe to be the brave soldier, Leonard Meryll. Fairfax, in disguise, does his best to play along, but is nonplussed by the arrival of Phoebe, the sister whom, of course, he doesn’t recognise. Wilfred unwittingly saves the day, announcing that he hopes to marry Phoebe and, in the meantime, commends her to the care of her brother (the delighted Fairfax).
The hour has come for Fairfax’s execution, but when the Yeomen go to escort him from his cell, it’s found, to general consternation, that he’s absconded. Jack Point is distraught at the disappearance of Elsie’s husband – she is no longer free to marry him - and Elsie faints into the disguised prisoner’s arms. Everyone rushes off to hunt for Fairfax.
~ Act II ~
Two days have passed, and the search continues. Jack Point (now in his post as Court Jester) fears that he may have lost Elsie forever, since her husband is still at large. He falls into conversation with Wilfred, who confesses that he’s always had a hankering to go on the stage. This gives Point an idea. He says he’ll teach Wilfred all the tricks of the trade if Wilfred will swear that he shot Fairfax dead as he swam across the Thames. Wilfred readily accepts.
Fairfax, still disguised as Leonard Meryll, laments his hurried marriage to an unknown bride. Sergeant Meryll enters and tells him that Elsie, the girl who fainted in his arms, and who has been recuperating under his roof, has recovered. But he also explains that her illness gave Dame Carruthers, the Housekeeper of the Tower, an excuse to lodge there as well and to continue her unwelcome flirtation with him. Who should appear but the Dame herself, with evidence that Elsie is married to Fairfax. Fairfax, left alone on stage, is delighted to discover that his bride is none other than the beautiful Elsie. In his disguise as Leonard, he decides to make overtures to her and thus test her loyalty as a wife. Against her better judgement, Elsie resists ‘Leonard’s’ advances, and just when he is about to reveal his true identity, they are interrupted by the sound of a gunshot from the river.
Everyone rushes on and Wilfred, with Jack Point’s eager corroboration, declares that he saw Fairfax trying to escape and shot him dead. The Lieutenant orders the Yeomen to search for the body, and Wilfred is celebrated as a hero. Elsie, Fairfax, Phoebe and Jack are left alone, and Jack asks Elsie, as she’s now free, to marry him. But Fairfax, still disguised as the dashing Leonard Meryll, proves a more persuasive wooer, and he and Elsie run off together. Jack is devastated; he wanders off in despair. Phoebe, who knows Fairfax’s real identity and is desperately in love with him, is also disconsolate.
Wilfred appears and, seeing his beloved Phoebe in tears, tries to comfort her. In her anguish, she inadvertently reveals that ‘Leonard’ is in fact Fairfax. Realising that the game is up, she buys Wilfred’s silence by agreeing to marry him. The real Leonard then runs on to announce that Fairfax has been reprieved. Sergeant Meryll enters, followed surreptitiously by Dame Carruthers. Phoebe tells him of her indiscretion before leaving with Wilfred, whereupon Dame Carruthers emerges and threatens to expose the three schemers who freed Fairfax illegally. Sergeant Meryll reluctantly buys her silence with an offer of marriage.
Elsie joyfully arrives for her wedding to the man she still knows as Leonard, but the Lieutenant appears and announces that her husband, Colonel Fairfax, is alive and well. Fairfax himself then arrives, but Elsie, distraught that she’s unable to wed Leonard, can’t bring herself even to look at him. She begs to be free, but Fairfax claims her as his bride. Finally, she turns and sees that her husband is in fact the man she loves. As everyone rejoices, Jack Point returns, with tragic consequences.