Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Victoria, or GSOV as they’re more commonly known within the theatre community, have a rich history spanning over 80 years of successful light operas and musical performances. Their long-standing commitment to bringing entertaining and engaging performances to the stage has allowed them to perform such classics as The Gondoliers, The Pirates Of Penzance, and many more. The team at GSOV are now jumping into new territory, with their next endeavour, the Australian premiere of Victor Herbert’s Eileen.
Eileen is a musical set in 1798 and follows the story of an Irish revolutionary and his sweetheart, Eileen. Together they navigate the highs and lows of romance, rebellion and revolution, as well as going on their own personal journeys within the narrative. At its core though, it is a story of freedom, and director Suzanne Barton has been tackling the material with a unique touch.
“When I was asked to direct this show, and I was considering how it might be staged…I focused on where I made idyllic childhood memories, of fireside stories and spirit-nourishing seisiún in Irish pubs, the rawness of acclaimed Irish musical Once, and even the highly-stylised palette of Disney’s Brave, set in Scotland. There is just so much that is appealing about Eileen, and I love that one show can conjure up all these possibilities!” Barton says. On working with GSOV, it feels nicely familiar for Barton. “It’s such a treat to work with such a long-standing and passionate organisation. I’ve only been in Melbourne a short time, although I took part in many productions with the equivalent company in Western Australia, so there’s a sense of familiarity.”
Alongside Barton, taking the helm as musical director is Kent Ross, whose knowledge and love for not only the text, but the orchestrations, makes him a perfect fit for GSOV’s Eileen. “The music is so multi-layered, but Victor Herbert also had an excellent grasp on how to write for voices. It’s no wonder his operettas were received so well at the time.” Ross enthuses. “To have such layers within the orchestra not only makes it interesting for the listener, but it also adds many more dimensions to the drama. All of this makes the score of Eileen very challenging to recreate those textures and layers, but also very exciting and fun!” Ross also says it’s been an absolute blast to work with such a talented cast. “The duet between Barry O’Day and Eileen (titled ‘Thine Alone’) is just so beautifully sung by our two leads, Peter Garratt and Alix Roberts. The song itself has stood the test of time, and it’s scored in such a way that many people mistake it for being written during the golden age of MGM musicals.” Ross laughs. “It’s such a full and luscious sound that can easily transport you back in time!”
Barton has also had an enjoyable time watching the cast develop into their characters. “It’s been a real highlight. Everyone is so stellar, right from our two romantic leads right through to our Lady Maude, played by Jennifer Anderson, who brings the perfect mix of passion and wry humour to the role. Our Colonel Lester who’s played by Alfred Anderson has a swoon-worthy singing voice and gets heaps of fun, playful moments.” Barton says excitedly. “Ron Pidcock OAM who plays Sir Reggie is the consummate, scene-stealing professional, while Tim Blencowe, who plays Sean Regan has taken to his dastardly role wonderfully, and even lent us his expertise as fight choreographer and dance coach. Lastly, but definitely not least, Amber Southall (Maddie and Dinny) has a simply gorgeous voice and is also doing a wonderful job”. Barton’s passion is evident when speaking about the cast of Eileen, and it’s clear she can’t wait to watch them shine on stage.
Taking on the role of Eileen herself is Alix Roberts, who has found the best way to step into her character is to find the self-identification within. “It’s liberating to step into her shoes and express what she feels as openly and unapologetically as she does, especially to such a stunning score.” Roberts has also found relatability in the character, which has assisted her in making Eileen her own. “There are a couple of moments in Eileen’s journey that I identify with. She’s blindsided by rejection and left heartbroken (been there…), and eventually has to weigh the risk of being hurt again by the possibility of love. I think what I love most about Eileen though, is her self-assertion, and how she’s not afraid to express her own feelings.” Roberts says.
Upon speaking to the team of Eileen, one thing is evident…they can’t wait to share this story with an audience. Barton encourages all to buy a ticket to what is sure to be a wonderful performance. “Audiences can expect romance, patriotism, humour, Irish dancers, a soaring score and a boutique orchestra crowned with a harp. I’m particularly excited about the harp!”
Eileen runs for 5 performances from November 15th – November 18th at the Kel Watson Theatre in Burwood East, Victoria – tickets available at https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=362098&
Photo credit: Robin Halls