Printable CopyPRINCESS IDA
SA Light Opera Society (SALOS)
Tower Arts Theatre
Until 01 Sep 2019

Review by Anthony Vawser

This may be a piece of theatre whose time has finally come. In an age when social issues such as the perceived impacts of feminism and the question of gender roles have had an ever-brighter spotlight shone on them, a seemingly frivolous bit of tuneful ‘Savoy opera’ fun such as Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Princess Ida” feels surprisingly contemporary and relevant, even biting, despite the text and score having originated in a time very far away from that which we live in now.

The Princess herself is given a quite marvellous interpretation by Kiera Turner, who possesses the stirring vocals, the compelling charisma, and the unshakeable poise to make her presence a major asset of this production. It really is possible to believe that Turner’s character could encompass both the unbending steel of the majority of her scenes, and the somewhat softened heart that emerges in the later stages. She makes for a marvellously strong centre to this show.

The supporting cast is, at their best, truly supportive, as well as colourful, cheeky, and engaging; they even manage to make the occasional facepalm-worthy modern reference seem like an absolutely justified addition to the script. It’s nice to see that the ongoing tendency to treat the work of Gilbert & Sullivan with an appropriate level of modern irreverence is being kept alive here.

MD Helen Loveday’s band manages an impressively impactful sound from a mere seven instruments. Ensemble vocals both manage to reach impressive heights of achievement and lapse at other moments into sloppiness, but the former outweigh the latter.

Set design occasionally feels cramped, but this arises more from the challenges of staging significant moments of physical action in a theatre the size of Tower Arts Centre, and less from the design itself, which is generally more than adequate. Costumes come in an impressive array of colours and with a variety of eye-catching details.

With what is apparently their first production of this particular G&S item (while multiple other Savoy operas have enjoyed multiple stagings since 1983), SALOS have made “Princess Ida” into an experience that is satiric without being didactic, broadly theatrical without quite tipping into unsympathetic caricature, and blithely amusing without diminishing its somewhat serious subtext. Maria Davis, as director, deserves a good deal of credit, firstly for tackling one of G&S’s perceived failures, and secondly, in proving it to be an unexpectedly vital and provocative piece that is more than worthy of re-examination.