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Princess Ida by Gilbert & Sullivan at the Finborough Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 28th Mar 2015 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

Bridget Costello as Princess Ida

He who desires to gain their favour must be qualified to strike their teeming brains and not their hearts. They're safety matches, sir, and they light only on the knowledge box.

The Finborough Theatre is very skilled at unearthing hidden gems. Their latest find is a rarely performed work by Gilbert and Sullivan - their only 3-act opera and the only one with the dialogue written in blank verse. Princess Ida was produced between Iolanthe and The Mikado when G&S were at the height of their popularity and ran for 246 performances. As part of their "Celebrating British Musical Theatre" series, the Finborough presents the first production of Princess Ida in over 20 years in a slightly updated version by director Phil Wilmott.

Prince Hilarion and Princess Ida were married to each other when they were only babies. 20 years later, Prince Hilarion arrives at the castle to reclaim his bride who is now of age. Yet he is not alone. A long line of suitors are awaiting the lovely Princess as well, aware of the fact that the Princess is now eligible for marriage. However, Lord Gama has persuaded Princess Ida to leave the castle and head a university for women - men are barred from entering the institute. Prince Hilarion, Prince Cyril and Prince Florian dress up as women to gain access to the college. Yet soon their ruse is discovered and a battle ensues.

Wendy Carr, Georgi Mottram, Bridget Costello, Rachel Lea Grey, Laura Coutts, Victoria Quigley- ready for the fight.

Phil Wilmott cut the cast by six, reassigned some of the songs, and changed King Gama into Ida's Guardian Lord Gama who has acted like a father to Princess Ida but now has different ideas, which provides additional comedic possibilities - Gama is transformed from a protective father into a jealous suitor and Simon Butteriss makes the most of it.

It is surprising that Princess Ida has not been as successful as other works by Gilbert and Sullivan as the libretto is witty and there are many memorable tunes. True, Princess Ida makes fun of Darwin's theory of evolution and feminism, especially the idea that women could pursue higher education, which might rub people the wrong way. However, if one goes down this route The Taming of the Shrew could never be performed.

Simon Butteriss as Lord Gama

The orchestra has been reduced to two talented pianists, Richard Baker and Nick Barstow, and the set consists primarily of a huge painting of a stag that actually can be opened into the haven of Princess Ida's university (design by Maira Vazeou). Bridget Costello is a sweet Princess, feisty if need be, dedicated to her vocation and has a beautiful voice. Simon Butteriss is hilarious as her Guardian, Lord Gama as he tries to stifle any interest in the male sex by presenting men in the worst possible light to increase his own chances. Simon Butteriss has great rapport with the audience as he includes us in his musings and even sits down in sombody's lap. The suitors have their comic moments when they dress up as women and try to fool the other students. Simeon Oakes is a charming and sincere Hilarion and Jeremy Lloyd, Raymond Walsh, Nathan Elcox and Jordan Veloso portray dashing young men but the focus is truly on the women - Laura Coutts, Georgi Mottram, Wendy Carr, Rachel Lea-Gray, and Victoria Quigley - who are enchanting as the studious ladies. The cast consists of highly skilled singers who do justice to this lovely operetta.

A successful revival of a neglected work.

By Carolin Kopplin


Until 18th April 2015

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439


Runs 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

All photos by Scott Rylander.



  • Elaine Pinkus
    by Elaine Pinkus 3 years ago
    Hi, Carolin. Treated myself to this last night and absolutely LOVED it. What a fantastic evening - audience was whooping and cheering; we all had ridiculous smiles plastered over our faces. Packed auditorium - five to a bench so very close company! Made me realise that to get the best out of theatre, you really do need to sit up close and personal - expressions on the faces of the performers was wonderful and sitting in my usual upper circle seats, one misses that. Would recommend this to all lovers of G&S. Elaine
  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 3 years ago
    Hi Elaine, I really enjoyed it too. Every G&S lover should get a kick out of this production.
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