Words by W.S. Gilbert and Music by Arthur Sullivan
The Guildhall,
March 1969
Cast List
King Hildebrand
King Gama
Princess Ida
Lady Blanche
Lady Psyche

Notes on this performance

42. Princess Ida

Health & Safety gone mad…

It may have taken 45 years before anyone thought of it, but the Committee now considered the time right to provide a first aid box backstage – Miss Williams was to make the ‘necessary arrangements’ and it would be in the care of the Stage Manager. 

Both Bert Clague (Producer) and Fred Gange (Stage Manager) had decided that The Gondoliers would be their last show in their respective posts. The versatile Bob Gibson was a willing and capable volunteer for the SM position but finding a new director was more problematical. A short list of five names was eventually drawn up but narrowing the field down would be time consuming, so Alfred Tomalin was coaxed out ‘of retirement’ to rejoin D Cecil Williams and mastermind Princess Ida.

A sub-committee was formed and its findings would have a big impact on the future of the Society – its brief was to answer three questions: 1. Could SAOS perform at the Gaumont? 2. Should it perform a non G&S opera?  3. Can it make its own scenery? Led by Bob Gibson, the recommendations were 1. Probably not – twice the number of tickets would need to be sold. 2. Yes, it would reinvigorate the members and give them a new challenge. 3. Yes, as a matter of urgency. A variety of premises were looked at before a short-term trial period was negotiated with Nursling Church Hall. The latter involved SAOS registering as a charity and having named trustees. 

The Committee considered two non G&S shows for 1970, The Gypsy Baron and Orpheus and the Underworld - the former was thought to be rather ‘old fashioned’ whilst the latter had ‘very poor libretto’ and ‘uninteresting music’. Meanwhile, the set for Ida was constructed at Nursling but, as the opera had three acts, this proved more expensive than anticipated and, with slow ticket sales, a loss looked very likely. 

Eight new members were auditioned and those accepted included Jill Charnley, Nick Short and Richard Ashton-Poole (later there were complaints that he was a tone-deaf tenor) and a strong cast was gathered. The Echo reviewer considered Princess Ida to be ‘sparkling’ but complained that ‘the two intervals were rather long because of the extensive scenery and costume changes’ before giving his views on the principals; ‘In the title role is Jill Meager, replacing Valerie Mansell, who was ill, and her soaring soprano voice was a joy to listen to. Playing Hilarion, Eric Miles did not seem to have the same confidence and his interpretation was a little stiff. Tom Judd, as King Gama, packed plenty of character into his part and his singing is always clear and tuneful. His opposite number, Bernard Harman, copes well with the slower songs but has some difficulty with faster sections. There are also lively performances from John Hoskins and Dennis Gooch as Hilarion’s friends and Les Harrison, Gerald Warr and Geoffrey Nunn are splendid as the warrior sons of Gama.’

Princess Ida made a loss of £456, ‘partly by the expense of making the scenery (the rent for Nursling was included in the production accounts) but also by a considerable decrease in the number of tickets sold’. No donations to charity were made that year.

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Trio

Dennis Gooch (Florian), Eric Miles (Hilarion), John Hoskins (Cyril)


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