I spoke to Katie Lockwood and Aled Jones about the upcoming Gilbert and Sullivan production, Princess Ida.
Many students don’t know Gilbert and Sullivan, so can you tell us a bit about the men and the shows and why the society is what it is?
Aled: Gilbert and Sullivan were Victorian composers who were famous in their day because there wasn’t much going on in the way of entertainment thanks to the war.
Their productions were essentially farcical comedies of sorts in the style of light opera called operetta,
so they aren’t meant to be as serious or tragic as opera but they are a bit more old-fashioned than musicals.
Katie: The reason why Gilbert and Sullivan is so good is because it’s clever, but it’s funny. The words we say are a very different style but it’s still understandable, but the whole air that goes along with it is really enjoyable.
Aled: It’s like Shakespeare; at first glance you can’t make any sense of it and then you read into it and you can see that it is very funny. Ida has very witty dialogue, and phenomenal music.
Katie: That’s one of the reason why we do it, we love musicals but G&S are more fun to tackle – the harmonies and the songs are so complex and intricate and so much more challenging to do so it sounds great. Some of the tongue-twisters leave no room to breathe!
Why should students see Princess Ida?
Aled: Opera is now seen as a dying art. It’s a magnificent thing to see but it’s become less popular. They’re much more challenging than a musical but they only really become enjoyable when you’re exposed to it more often because then you understand it.
Katie: And the chorus in G&S is so crucial, without it the shows would be boring.
In lots of musicals the chorus is an added extra but in G&S they’re a core focal part of the performance.
Why did you choose the suffragette theme for the play?
Katie: It was our director’s idea. She (Nicola Wilkes) thought it would be a really good idea to set it in a different era because it’s usually set in Medieval Hungary, and they usually have those fairy type dresses and it’s all very light-hearted.
Aled: It also shows that G&S can slowly acclimatise to different times, because most of it is set in specific time periods which is one reason why they aren’t as popular today – most musicals set their productions in modern day or thereabouts which is obviously difficult to compete with.
Katie: Also because it is set in a university so you can actually make it more about the education side of things and you can add in much more small details that you couldn’t necessarily do if it was all light-hearted medieval.
In ours, with costume and stuff, we’re using the graduation robes and hoods.
It’s just brilliant.
How challenging has it been so far and what challenges do you envisage in the next couple of weeks?
Our biggest challenge to date has been choreography.
Katie: We’ve got a lot of dance in the show. Usually we have a bit of dance but the main emphasis on singing, this year though we decided to make it more visually appealing. This year we have a ballet troupe who do their own dancing.
How much preparation goes into the show before the rehearsals start, or do you have a core idea and then adapt it as rehearsals go along?
Katie: So the committee get elected at the AGM and they decide what show they’re going to do, and then they search for the creative team. When the director came in for an interview, they had to tell us all of their ideas, and that’s where the main body comes from. Our director came in with so many new ideas back in May, and of course we got a say because we chose them, but the cast didn’t start rehearsing until October. Over the summer the show gets choreographed and staged and things like that, obviously they can’t do everything because they don’t know what set we’re getting or who we’re going to have, but they do think about it a lot and they mind map a lot of it. They do a lot of hard work before the auditions even start for the show.
How are the cast managing with the show?
Katie: We have so many rehearsals, but I think at the minute things are going really well. Some people thought they couldn’t dance, but they’ve proved that they can!
Aled: We’ve had a few very stressful rehearsals.
Katie: So many people doubted their abilities! I don’t actually have that much dancing to do, thank goodness.
How relevant are the shows in the modern times and are some of the themes just going to live forever?
Katie: It’s kind of feminist but is it? Is it too far? Is it not enough? It’s definitely interesting because it’s something that’s still going on – should women and men be different categories or are they all the same? It’s just so funny that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but at the same time the themes are still relevant, they can’t be obsolete.
Aled: You do have to take it as a pinch of salt because it is a parody not a political statement. It is so much fun, but it’s not designed to have a political impact.
Katie: The characters are so exaggerated and fun to perform, that you physically cannot take them seriously. They’re so different because so musicals or operas are just a love story and there’s not much going on other than that! Should we get together, shouldn’t we…
Aled: There’s a lot of standing and pouting involved!
Katie: These performances, the G&S shows, have actual intellectual ideas.
What else do you want people to know about G&S, about Ida, about anything?
Katie: We’ve got a really talented cast, and we have so much fun doing it, and the reason why we do it is because we enjoy it so we want people to come and enjoy it with us! People should start coming to the theatre more often! People should extend their range, so they should include Gilbert and Sullivan.
Aled: There’s no point in doing a show if you don’t love it, and we really do!
Katie: There is the student standby price:
if you buy tickets on the day, they’re five pounds for students!
It’s really worth it.
The cast of Gilbert and Sullivan are excited and passionate about the show, and it’s going to come across in their performances as always. Princess Ida will be running until Saturday 13th February, and is well worth seeing.