1 November 2022

Rachel’s Theatre Tour arrives in Woodbridge – The Seckford Theatre.

By Rachel Sloane
The Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge

The Seckford Theatre is a modern building set in the beautiful 45 acres of grounds at Woodbridge School. Obviously used for school productions,  it is also hired by amateur groups like Deben Players and The Company of Four, stage and dance schools, and small-scale professional tours such as those by Eastern Angles and Common Ground Theatre Company. Even the Royal Ballet has performed there! I have seen a Co-op Juniors show there as well as Common Ground, so have visited before. 

“The Seckford Foundation, which funded the theatre, is incredibly proud of this state of the art building which seats up to 350 people and boasts a versatile performance area…. The Seckford Theatre reflects the commitment of both Woodbridge School and the Seckford Foundation to benefit all in the local area,” states their website.

The theatre building has a the large foyer, with a bar serving hot drinks and creams, with stairs leading down, and up to the balcony seating. There is a lift available.  The seats are comfortable, and all have with good sight lines and generous spacing.

View of the grounds from the theatre entrance

The Mikado – by Gilbert and Sullivan. Produced by the Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

Yet another style of production for my tour of Suffolk’s theatres!

The ‘Savoy Operas’,  the light operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, written in the late 19th century, and are not as popular as they once were, although most of us are familiar with the most famous songs, and societies such as the one in Ipswich do regular performances of their best known works. Even if you have never seen a Gilbert and Sullivan play you probably know of the songs, “Three Little Maids from School Are We” and “Some Day it May Happen” – or ‘The Little List’ song… but more of that in a moment. 

The Mikado is musical comedy and was written as a send-up of British society. This production by the Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan Society  “will not be using traditional Japanese costumes or any text that is offensive to any cultures. It will be very slightly modified to reflect modern values, replacing the historical Japanese setting with the sparkle of the roaring twenties and jazz era.”

Traditionalists may have been worried (one I know groaned when I told her) but it worked very well. 

“I hope we have avoided any controversy and you will enjoy The Mikado for what it is – a brilliantly witty musical comedy, blessed with Gilbert’s hilarious lyrics and Sullivan’s sparkling tunes.” said James Hayward, Show Director. 

The location was a town called Titipu (“on an island off the coast of Japan…. Very far off the coast!”) was the explanation shown on a giant screen, silent-film style before the performance began).  

A back cloth was painted with a scene of an English garden, and the 1930’s costumes were top hats and tails… and school gym slips and straw boaters for the maids and their schoolfriends. They were rather mature ‘little maids’ and schoolgirls, but no-one seemed to care too much – and they sang beautifully. In the second half, as the girls and their teachers prepared for the wedding, the costumes changed to silk kimono-dressing gowns, and Chinese lanterns hung above the stage, so a nod to Japan.  

The leading role of Yum-Yum should have been played by Ruth Eilis but, as she was ill, with two hour’s rehearsal, Louise Cockerill stepped into the role very professionally. She obviously knew the songs well, and just used a script for the dialogue, seamlessly slotting into dance numbers too, (and had a well-deserved huge round of applause at the end).

‘The Mikado’, is a love triangle between Yum-Yum, the Mikado’s (or emperor’s) son, Nanki -Poo (played by Philip Tattersall), and the scary older woman, Katisha (Lucy Pakes). The Mikado himself was played by Ed Gerrie, and joining Yum-Yum were her sisters, played by Becca Kirby and Caroline Ranson, so completing the trio of Three Little Maids. 

The story mocks government officials with characters like Pooh-Bah (Mark Ellis) , the official who is in charge of everything (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Archbishop, Leader of the Opposition, etc etc… and  ‘The Secretary of State for Levelling Up!). This production continued the tradition of slipping in current cultural references like that… and there was even a Masked Singer style chorus (‘Get it Off’)… all much appreciated by the audience.  

With the death penalty for flirting, one of the most popular songs in The Mikado, is The Lord High Executioner’s “I’ve got a little list”, (played by Paul Jennings) which is famous for having re-written updated lyrics. There were so many that I couldn’t write them all down fast enough but on his list were mobile phone addicts, ticktock, Facebook, What’s Ap groups, avocado on toast, quinoa and Putin! 

Highlights for me were, as well as The Little List song, the excellent singing including of the ladies and men’s chorus, the orchestra, the humour, the harmonies in the madrigal ‘Brightly dawns our wedding day’, and ‘The flowers that bloom in the spring’ which had lots of skipping around the stage!

Well-rehearsed, well-sung and with updating of the location, the work of Gilbert and Sullivan may date from the 19th century but, with some clever changes to the lyrics, The Mikado  was a huge hit with the packed audience at the Seckford Theatre. 

The Mikado was on at Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge on October 25-29th 2022. Next year they are presenting HMS Pinafore and meanwhile have a choir that gives charity concerts.