In the tongue-in-cheek style that Gilbert and Sullivan musicals so richly deserve, here’s my take on the show I’m in at Hereford Courtyard Theatre, March 19th – 22nd.
I have to say that the music in Princess Ida is far better than any other G&S show I’ve performed in. It seems that by this stage in their partnership Sullivan, a serious composer, had grown tired of producing the fluffy music Gilbert’s lyrics usually called for, and sought a greater challenge. The resulting score has strong classical undertones – shades of Handel and Bach as well as grander operatic sections. The chorus lines are a joy to sing and the plaintive melodies in the principals’ songs wonderful to listen to. I hope you find the same.
And here’s a thing. For the first time in my life, at the tender age of 66, with cowboy legs and a dodgy limp, I shall be wearing tights and Speedos – once I’ve found out what those are. If you’re a million miles away you’re safe! But if you live closer, you might just feel tempted to check it out!
So this is the storyline …
Act 1 – King Hildebrand’s Palace
Princess Ida and Prince Hilarion got married when she was one year old and he was two – as you do. The deal was that they’d get together properly twenty years later. That day has come, and Hilarion waits uneasily with his dad King Hildebrand and his mates Cyril and Florian for signs of Ida’s arrival in their kingdom.
Sadly, the only people who turn up are Ida’s dad King Gama and her three stupid brothers Arac, Guron and Scynthius. There’s obviously history between the two Kings – they’re like chalk and cheese and bicker a lot. Gama proudly announces that Ida won’t be coming because she’s dedicated to running a university called Castle Adamant – exclusively for girls. He tells Hilarion there might still be a chance if he went and asked Ida nicely, whereas Hildebrand demands that Ida come at once or he’ll send his men over to storm the Castle.
Hilarion and his pals are convinced they can entice Ida to come. With Cyril excited at the thought of a uni with a hundred girls, the three of them head off to do their best, while Hildebrand holds Gama and his sons hostage, threatening the worst if anything goes wrong with the mission.
Act 2 – Grounds of Castle Adamant
Lady Psyche shares with the girl graduates her knowledge of Classics and her disdain for men, while Lady Blanche administers the day’s punishments. They all rise in awe for Princess Ida, who theatrically rejoices in her calling. Lady Blanche doesn’t like Ida’s style, and thinks she should be running the place.
Behaving like overgrown schoolboys, Hilarion, Cyril and Florian sneak in unnoticed and happen across some women’s robes in which to disguise themselves.
They bump into Princess Ida, and find the disguise works well, though Cyril’s excitability is clearly putting the venture at risk. A greater threat arises when they happen across Lady Psyche whom Florian recognises as his sister.
They share their plan with her and also, unwittingly, with Melissa who overhears the conversation. Both are sworn to secrecy, but Lady Blanche wheedles the secret out of Melissa (her daughter), who persuades her mum to keep quiet by pointing out that if Princess Ida did leave with Hilarion, she could fulfil her ambition of running the uni.
Over lunch, Cyril has a bit too much Pinot Grigio and gives the game away. Ida goes berserk when she finds men have invaded her territory, but in the middle of a hissy fit falls off a bridge and has to be rescued from the river by Hilarion.
In any other story it might have ended there, happy ever after. But not for Ida. With no hint of gratitude, and in spite of Hilarion declaring his undying love for her, she has the three men bound and taken away.
Now she’s started something! Suddenly the castle walls are stormed by King Hildebrand and his soldiers, carrying in their train Ida’s three brothers, still in chains. He reiterates his demands, threatening to top the prisoners if she doesn’t release Hilarion and fulfil her obligation to love, honour and obey him as a wife. But Ida is defiant to the last and the story is left hanging on a very delicate thread indeed.
Act 3 – Courtyard of Castle Adamant
A fight seems inevitable, and the girl graduates take up arms. But they’re torn between their anti-men principles and softer womanly feelings. Ida is disappointed at the lack of support and scorns the girls, saying she’ll take the soldiers on by herself if necessary.
King Gama arrives, technically still a prisoner but sent by Hildebrand to say that Ida’s three brothers should fight Hilarion and his friends, with the outcome determining Ida’s future. Arac, Guron and Scynthius come in looking despondent and not at all fit to fight. Hilarion, Cyril and Florian, much to Gama’s delight, arrive looking even more unlikely in their girlie garb.
A fight kicks off – and the girlie men have it! Ida is now stranded. With Lady Blanche waiting in the wings and Cyril and Florian clearly of more than passing interest to the girls, will the Princess fight on alone or does she fancy Prince Hilarion more than she’s been making out?
Paul Costello © February 2014
UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello. Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!
Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions