Culture | Love and heartbreak in Elizabethean England

The Savoy Society’s Yeomen of the Guard expertly melds music and words

Perhaps life would have been nicer in an earlier age. A world without cell phones, video games, or Uggs certainly has its appeal. Still, experiencing outbreaks of the plague or religious feuds would probably dispel anyone’s desire to live during the dawn of Elizabethan England. This is the world that the audience is ushered into by the McGill Savoy Society in its newest production, Yeomen of the Guard. Now showing at McGill’s Moyse Hall, the opera is set at the Tower of London and tells the tale of a group of peasants and the Tower’s illustrious Yeomen.

Director Erin Grainger emphasizes the role of music in the performance, which incorporated an orchestra to support the actors. “Music is the underlying force of moods, opinions, and emotions,” he says. “The role of the orchestra is to externalize the feelings that the characters are having, so the audience can understand them better.”

The similarities in age between the characters and the actors who played them also reflected well on their performances. The actors were able to accurately portray feelings of love and heartbreak because of their own life experiences. According to Grainger, this was one of the reasons the play was chosen: “These characters have situations that the actors can relate to, feelings of love and false blame. Things like that happen to us all in our daily lives.”

Set design was another of the play’s most impressive features. The set was superbly constructed, with several large, well-detailed structures that created a lifelike environment. This was also aided by a good use of lighting, such as the change of background colour to reflect the current mood or the use of a silhouette to portray characters’ thoughts. The costumes were excellent too, whether the distinguished red livery of the Yeomen or the peasants’ plain attire.

The songs were often fun and upbeat, and the accompanying choreography was excellent and well-rehearsed. However, during more up-tempo songs, the ends of longwinded lines were often difficult to hear; the actors were low on breath but still tried to sing many words quickly. This became problematic, as lyrics were often used to drive the story forward.

Overall, the opera was well-executed and enjoyable. The orchestra and actors had good chemistry, and with such excellent set design and lighting, the final product was truly outstanding. Theatre and music lovers alike should not miss Yeomen of the Guard.


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