The Yeoman of the Guard, Gilbert & Sullivan, English National Opera, The Coliseum

There is nothing better on a cold west winter’s weekend afternoon than going to a matinee. Whether it’s the cinema, theatre or in this case the English National Opera’s new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Yeoman of the Guard at the Coliseum. The ENO may well have had its death knell sounded by the Arts Council withdrawing of all of its grant but this production is a triumph.

It is a lean yet sumptuous production. The sets are at one and the same time have a fantasy quality of beauty yet convey enough of a sense of reality to make them plausible. The words and the music are comfortingly familiar, but the context has been updated to the 1950s. Opening with Pathe style news reel the production has a crisp immediate feel to it. This is no dusty old re-rendering of a musical old timer, but rather a thoughtful interpretation that conveys enough of a contemporary feel that enhances rather than undermines the original.

Not only are the sets magnificent, but the costumes and staging play their full part in supporting the cast in their roles. Richard McCabe plays a central and effective role but it is right to say the whole cast delivers a first class performance. It is the ENO at its very best. The orchestra, of which a cousin was once involved in managing, thumps out the music beautifully.

The Coliseum itself always a magnificent place to spend time. It is so physically large and so magnificently baroque that it is one of the last great theatres to transport you emotionally back to a grander and more stylish age. Afternoon performances have one other attraction too. They tend to attract an older audience. No rustling of crisp packets, stinking popcorn, slurping of drink, jingling and pinging of mobile telephones. Refreshment is taken, as it should be, in the interval. During the show itself just attentive and appreciative attention.