World’s biggest G&S festival unveils Harrogate line-up

Gilbert and Sullivan Festival.
Gilbert and Sullivan Festival.

By Weekend Editor Graham Chalmers

If you thought last year’s CLASSICfest in Harrogate was big, just wait until you see what organisers have planned for this year!

Having dipped their toes in Harrogate waters for the past two years with CLASSICfest, organisers are now moving the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival lock, stock and barrel from its Buxton home of 20 years with 60 shows in 25 days in Harrogate, Ripon and beyond this summer.

The exciting news for lovers of musical theatre is that the 21st International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival will run from August 2 -August 26.

Taking place predominantly at the Royal Hall and the nearby Harrogate Theatre, in addition to the massive official programme of 60 full-scale productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, there will also be 100 additional Fringe events.

Highlights will include no fewer than 23 performances from the festival’s own professional company the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company who will present four new productions of The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and Iolanthe.

They will be joined by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players – America’s leading professional opera company with an American take on The Yeomen of the Guard and The Pirates of Penzance.

Twelve outstanding groups from the UK and USA will compete for the coveted International Trophy.

Seven British university groups will present their own Gilbert and Sullivan productions in a special university UNIFest competition in the Harrogate Theatre.

Last year’s winners of this competition, Cambridge University Gilbert and Sullivan Society will be joined by American enthusiasts from Harvard and MIT with productions in the Royal Hall.

There is a special performance of Ruddigore for a group called the ‘Over 60’s Savoyards’ – highly experienced amateur and professional performers who are now drawing their pension but will ‘strut their stuff’ across the Royal Hall stage next summer.

The festival dates coincide with the centenary of Britain joining the Great War, and two major commemorative concerts will be presented at Newby Hall (August 3) and the Harrogate Valley Gardens (August 16)

A mini Sullivan Festival will feature Sullivan without Gilbert with a special concert in Ripon Cathedral; a Symphony Concert in Harrogate Theatre and workshops featuring a Sullivan enthusiast from Russia.

There will be a Pirates of Penzance sing-a-long in Fountains Abbey – one of less than a thousand World Heritage sites; and a sing-a-long of HMS Pinafore in Valley Gardens.

G&S enthusiasts will attempt to beat a current world record by performing all 13 of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas (with dialogue and orchestra) non-stop in 13 different locations in North Yorkshire in less than 30 hours.

A serious ‘Strictly Singing’ talent competition is looking for tomorrow’s stars of Opera, Musical Theatre and Gilbert and Sullivan in a competition hosted by two of Britain’s most famous opera and musical stars – Miss Valerie Masterson CBE and Miss Gillian Humphreys O.B.E.

Lunchtime concerts; ad-hoc performances around North Yorkshire and a Late Night Festival Club, it’s certainly one of the most exciting events to hit the area for decades.