Harrogate loves International G&S Festival!

Part of the Plymouth Fellowships' cast of The Yeomen of the Guard ready for an outdoor performance at Knaresborough Castle.
Part of the Plymouth Fellowships' cast of The Yeomen of the Guard ready for an outdoor performance at Knaresborough Castle.

By Graham Chalmers

Despite a minor fire alarm drama, organisers of the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival have declared the first weekend a huge success - and pledged to bring the event back to Harrogate district in 2015.

The announcement was made by the G&S Festival’s chairman Ian Smith at a reception of VIPs on Saturday night where he thanked Harrogate Borough Council and Harrogate International Centre for their terrific support for the month-long feast of events.

Ian said: “After 20 years at Buxton, we were a little anxious to see how our die-hard G&S fans would take to the move. But they’re telling me they love it. We’ve received such a friendly welcome from everyone with very professional hospitality from hotels and guest houses.”

Among the many big G&S shows taking place in the launch weekend, one saw a little more excitement than expected.

The Royal Hall had to be evacuated briefly when a fire alarm sounded during Sunday afternoon’s performance of HMS Pinafore.

Fortunately, the fire brigade declared it a false alarm and the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company went on with the show in true showbiz style.

Although it won’t be possible to estimate the full financial benefit of the festival’s move, it is known that it was worth £1.5m per week when held in Buxton.

Some local hotels have reported rooms being reserved for G&S fans for the entire month and the HIC director Simon Kent said he had heard hotel bookings in Harrogate had increased overall.

Peter Banks, managing director at Rudding Park Hotel, said: “It’s fantastic to have the Gilbert & Sullivan Festival. we have a number of guests staying specifically at the hotel as a result of the festival.”

Even the smaller guest houses appear to be doing well.

One hotelier, Sandra Doherty, who owns Alexa House on Ripon Road, said she had enjoyed a surge of bookings.

She said: “The festival has made a lot of difference. I’m now full Monday to Fridays with guests. It would normally be dead in August.”

The second week of the G&S Festival will see the arrival of America’s most famous professional G&S company from New York for shows of Pirates of Penzance on Friday and Saturday and Yeomen of the Guard on Sunday.

Among a huge array of shows, talks and tours, local group Harrogate Gilbert and Sullivan Society are preparing for a performance of HMS Pinafore at the Royal Hall next Tuesday.

Publicity secretary Roz Ebbetts said: “Our group is always on the lookout for new blood and we’re hoping this wonderful festival will encourage potential new members to come along and join in the fun.”

One audience member, Jenny Harris from Maidenhead in Berkshire, arrived in Harrogate as a performer but decided to stay longer.

“Harrogate is lovely. Everyone has been so friendly.”

Whether it’s organisers, audience members, hoteliers or performers, everyone seems to agree that the festival is already a hit - with more than three weeks still to go.