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Princess Ida

A scene from Princess Ida at the Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander
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The Finborough yet again goes where other theatres fear to tread. Instead of giving us Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!, they recently gave us the UK premiere of his long-forgotten Broadway flop The Grand Tour; and now instead of The Pirates of Penzance or The Mikado, they’ve resurrected Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida, which hasn’t been performed in a professional setting in London for more than 20 years.

There’s certainly pleasure in the score’s unfamiliarity, and the full-blooded performance it is given here is enhanced by the skilful double piano accompaniment of dinner-suited duo Richard Baker and Nick Barstow who are positioned on either side of the tiny stage.

The typically convoluted plot revolves around a princess (Ida) who attends a women-only university. In her infancy, she had been married off to a Prince Hilarion. and now 20 years on he is keen to be reunited with her. But her guardian does not approve (rather like Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd, he wants her for himself), and Hilarion must resort to subterfuge in an attempt to win her.   

Director Phil Willmott, who according to my Gilbert and Sullivan expert guest has taken considerable liberties in his new adaptation of the piece, keeps it fresh and buoyant thanks to the relentless energy of his cast and their excellent vocals. The female chorus in particular brings a shimmering, only occasionally simpering, clarity to the songs, and Bridget Costello is superb in the title role. G&S veteran Simon Butteriss steals the show from the beginning, though, with the ravishing polish of his patter songs.

Dates: March 24-April 18, PN March 26

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A theatrical curiosity gets an appealing outing