New Version of Princess Ida Comes to Finborough Theatre

Penny Flood is charmed by Gilbert & Sullivan's rarely seen comic operatta

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This utterly charming new production of Princess Ida is a great chance to see one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s rarely performed works.

Loosely based on a very long poem by Tennyson it wasn’t very well received in its day; much of the dialogue was in blank verse, at three acts it was very long and it was musically complicated. So it’s full marks to director Phil Willmott who has tweaked and tucked it and added some nice touches without losing any spirit, wit or humour of the original.

The result is a highly operatic, sharp, clever, funny and very accessible work.

The story is about the beautiful Princess Ida (Bridget Costello) who, having turned 21, is courted by handsome young princes but her guardian Lord Gama, for his own less than honourable reasons, packs her off to start a women only university so she never comes into contact with men.

Simon Butteriss as Gama is the undoubted star of the show, a self satisfied sexual predator; he slinks and sneers his way around the stage like a thoroughly modern pantomime villain. However, what he doesn’t know is that Ida was betrothed when she was just one year old to the Hungarian Price Hilarion (Zac Wancke) who is determined to find her.

At Ida’s university they teach that women are superior to men and should be the rulers. None of the girls admits to having seen a naked male body before, resulting in a hilarious episode with a statue of a male torso, which isn’t all it seems to be.  All goes well until Prince Hilarion and two of his friends break into the college, dressed as women.  Of course they are discovered and, in spite of the best efforts of Ida and some of the girls - who have their own reasons for not being interested in men - the birds and the bees takes their course. Hilarion and Ada fall in love and everybody else pairs off but not necessarily in the way you might have expected.

Naturally, Gama gets his comeuppance but not without losing his trousers.

The design is inspired by two more Victorians. Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen bears down on the opening scene in Gama’s gloomy home, which opens up to the pretty sunniness of Lawrence Alma-Tadema paintings. Picking up on this theme, all the girls are dressed in glorious floaty, flimsy numbers like the young women in those paintings.

Princess Ida was written as a social satire on the three great controversies of the day - feminism, higher education for women and Darwin’s theory with votes for women thrown in for good measure. There’s plenty of opportunity to take the rise of out the big issues here, and in Gilbert and Willmott’s hands, none of it is wasted.

Princess Ida continues from Tuesdays till Saturdays at 7.30pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm until April 18 at the Finborough Theatre, Finborough Road.

For tickets, call the box office on 0844 847 1652 or book online.


April 2, 2015