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Audlem Voices perform Gilbert & Sullivan

What a wonderful night of music and laughter in the ancient church of St James in Audlem on Saturday 18 May!

Audlem Voices, under our Musical Director Jenny Collis-Smith, presented our first ever (and surely it won't be the last!) evening of music from the great comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Carole Hallows, our Chair, warmly welcomed the audience and introduced our soloists — stellar soprano Jane Johnson, charismatic contralto Pamela Clarke, tender tenor Philip Cartwright and booming baritone Kevin Whitfield.

Jenny raised her baton and we started surprisingly solemnly, as if singing a serious hymn in a church... well, it was an invocation to the Goddess Poetry! You didn't know there was a Goddess Poetry? Well, now you do. And what is the role of Poetry but to smooth over every ugly awkward thing with sweet rhyme? Even piracy!

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After this grand opening we berated a bunch of bumbling Beefeaters for letting an important prisoner get clean away. Our four soloists beguiled us with the laughably lugubrious wedding of that prisoner, sentenced to death, to a blindfolded girl who'd never set eyes on him... (Mr Gilbert, who wrote this frightful folderol, was surely a match for Mr Edgar Allan Poe.)

Fleeing England's shores for far away Japan, scene of 'The Mikado', Philip Cartwright, ably supported by the men of the choir, delighted us with the musical and emotional talent of the Wand'ring Minstrel, and Kevin Whitfield strutted his stuff as the rather puzzlingly successful Lord High Executioner. The ladies of the choir miraculously turned into angsty school-leavers, but Jenny, Jackie and Yvonne soon restored the natural order with their two renditions of 'Three Little Maids', making it plain that HRT is the way to go, ladies. Pamela Clarke offered a contrasting mood with a delightfully dismal dirge of a dame who is just not getting her way, and so desires to be dead. As you do.

Quitting Japan for an imaginary land (just as much Victorian Britain as Japan had been, of course) Jane Johnson, as the eponymous 'Princess Ida', prayed to Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom, that her students at the University for Women would actually learn something this term.

Jane and Philip gazed deep into each other's eyes in the love duet from 'Iolanthe' and swore that none shall part them! What a wonderful wedding song this could be...

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Speaking of which, the wedding song from 'Ruddigore' had us all in full voice on the upsides of every season of the year, before the first half of our concert concluded with a taster from 'HMS Pinafore' with Kevin Whitfield recounting Sir Joseph's hilarious rise to First Lord of the Admiralty (aka Ruler of the Queen's Navee) by means of his cunning plan of 'staying close to his desk and never going to sea'.

After the interval, we jumped back aboard the saucy Pinafore to greet Sir Joseph and his dozens of cousins with the glee of sailors seeing women after months at sea. (You can imagine how that went.) Pamela took on the role of the 'bumboat woman' Buttercup, hawking her provender to the sailors. Jane, Philip and Kevin gave us a lively trio on how love conquers all social division (don't we wish that were true?).

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Not done with the sea, we returned to 'The Pirates of Penzance' where we started and heard Kevin compare piratical monarchy with your ordinary monarchy, to the detriment of the latter, with the full-throated approval of the men of the choir.

The ladies of the choir again reverted to girlhood and skipped along the Cornwall coast to their private queendom, with Jane and Pamela at their head. An encounter with a handsome pirate led Jane to offer her love to the poor wand'ring one as a means to turn him from his awful trade. (Tip: this never works!)

Two marvellous choruses saw the galumphing pirates try their hand at silent burglary (led by Philip), while the downtrodden policemen, with Kevin as their Sergeant, bemoaned their unhappy lot.

Still not done with boats, we took up with 'The Gondoliers' in Venice with an exhausting dance and alcohol combo (a few of us had had a few during the interval to prepare!)

Philip tenderly advised men — but really all of us — to: 'Live to love and love to live' and then our four soloists gathered for their final ensemble exposition of how any woman, from any position in society, can play the role of queen. It's not difficult!

And at last, we gathered it all together, back on board our dear Pinafore, for everybody to marry the person they had really wanted to marry all along, all vicissitudes vanquished by diktat of the libretto and by virtue of being an E-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-en-glish man!

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With flowers and wine for our soloists, for Jenny, and for Naomi Newman our accompanist (the only person who never got a moment's rest throughout!), and to much applause from our lovely audience, the evening came to a very happy end.

The photos show the choir singing 'Hail Poetry'; Jane Johnson and Philip Cartwright; Pamela Clarke and Kevin Whitfield; Jenny Collis-Smith (Musical Director) and Naomi Newman (Accompanist).

You can click on the pictures for enlarged versions.