Princess Ida


Princess IdaFinborough Theatre, Until 18th April 2015

One’s first experience of seeing a play at Finborough theatre is really rather charming. Located above the Finborough Arms pub round the corner from Brompton Cemetery, this tiny theatre does not shy away from setting itself a big challenge such as the revival of a light operetta like Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida.

The production team claim to be London’s first professional production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera with it’s complex libretto in over twenty years and they certainly make it a worthwhile show for an enjoyable evening of entertainment, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

The London Magazine readers will be familiar with the reference to Tennyson’s narrative poem ‘Princess Ida’. Elements of the fairy-tale story emerge to include a Castle Adament, a Princess and her suitors, but it has all the characteristics of a farce: stock characters, such as the repulsive but comical Lord Gama, men dressed as women and an ape. The result is an energetic and euphoric communal experience.

Women’s education is at the heart of the story in which Princess Ida sets up a women’s university and the walls of the castle are breached by the prince – to whom she is betrothed since infancy – and his foolish friends. In a battle of the sexes, the women defy the intrusion in a way that can only be seen as mocking to them. Mighty maidens on a mission, Princess Ida looks to Goddess Minerva as a paragon of female wisdom: ‘Minerva! Minerva! Oh, hear me: Oh, goddess wise.’

However, not only is this a successful creative adaptation of a neglected opera, but also there are some wonderful singing voices from almost everyone on the stage, notably from Bridget Costello (Princess Ida) in the song ‘the world is but a broken toy’ and Simon Butteriss (as Lord Gama).

The stage set is inspired by the paintings of Alma-Tadema and the costumes for Princess Ida and her maidens in floral hair wreaths and spring coloured silks makes for a pretty picture. However, the maidens look far more frightening with their hockey sticks in hand.

The opera is full of catchy melodic songs such as ‘A Lady Fair, of lineage high’, ‘Merrily ring the luncheon bell’ or ‘P’raps you address the lady most politely’ with the cheery lyrics:

Oh, dainty triolet!
Oh, fragrant violet!
Oh, gentle heigho-let!
(Or little sigh).
On sweet urbanity,
Tho’ mere inanity,
To touch their vanity
We will rely!
Oh, dainty triolet!

The stage has the intimacy of the old Southwark playhouse, yet the accomplished performance from all puts Finborough theatre seriously in the ratings and we are left walking out ‘With Joy abiding.’

by Heather Wells

Princess IdaFinborough Theatre, Until 18th April 2015