Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


The Plot (concluded)

1.5 - The First "College" Musical
1.6 - The Fight

1.5 - The First "College" Musical

Neil : I think it should be noted that Princess Ida is the first "college" musical. I note that the others, Wodehouse and Kern's Leave It to Jane, Da Sylva Brown and Henderson's Good News and Rodgers and Harts Too Many Girls all quite successful end in a football game. We all know that Princess Ida is one of the least successful of the G&S canon. It's not the music and lyrics which are wonderful. Might it be that all would have been solved with a football game at the end?

Jeff Demarco: Well, it has a battle (of sorts) which is metaphorically a football game!

Arthur Robinson: If instead of the sword fight in Act III they had had a football game, it would have run longer. "This helmet, I suppose" could stay, though other lyrics might change:

"These kneepads and these spikes
Each one of us dislikes;
They keep us safe
But since they chafe,
We long for football strikes

Tom Shepard suggests:

Tackle the offensive
Bring him to his knees
Keep the pace intensive,
Just don't hurt him, please.

Gerry Howe: The difference between a battle and a football game is that in the former it is the participants who get injured.

1.6 - The Fight

Bill Snyder: In our '81 production we used both verses of the chorus and did the fight in slow motion under lighting that suggested a cross between a thunder storm and a silent movie. Our three brothers were very large and Hilarion and his friends were smaller and rather lithe.

We had several problems we had to solve.

Principal was the clashing of swords during the fight obscured the singing (even from a chorus of 45!), which brings up another problem: a chorus of 45 surounding a 6-man sword fight. Anything slightly off might have endangered someone. Also I had a tenor who had a long speech coming up. So the whole thing solved three problems . . . four really. When the lights came up all the soldiers were paired magically with all the girl graduates. It worked nicely and got scads of applause.

David Duffey: Very dangerous. Strobe effects can be a hazard to epilectics for example, and can also have an unfortunate effect on young children, as we found after giving a mid-week matinee for local schoolchildren. There wasn't a dry seat in the house.

Nick Sales: We used this in the above mentioned last year's show. An announcement was made before each appointment to that effect, but its use meant that our (okay, my) pitiful attempts to fight looked a good deal more convincing than they felt!

Barclay Gordon: One not very important (but persistent) problem in the fight scene from Act III is that the combatants have obviously spent more time in voice studios than in fencing classes. Thank goodness, but . . . In a production I saw some years ago, this problem was sidestepped with a beautifully-choreographed piece of slapstick. Arac, armed with a huge club, was just on the point of converting Hilarion's head into a mashed potato. But with his long backswing he flattened Guron, and his even longer swing and follow-through (Hilarion ducked) caught Synthius on the side of the head and sent him to dreamland! It was over in an instant but the audience loved it.

Rica Mendes: I see no reason why the fencing scene should be sacrificed/made slapstick in order for it to work. I think that it all depends on how the director sees the scene fit.

J. Derrick McClure: I've always thought this whole episode was incredibly weak: how are we to believe that three "tufted jack-a-dandy featherheads" - or if that is a rather biased description, three young courtiers who are obviously far more at home in the courts of Venus than on the field of Mars - could have a hope of defeating three hardened warriors, with or without armour?

A long time ago I saw an Ida in which the producer had taken the bold step of re-writing the ending - making Arac and his brothers victorious, and Ida intervene to plead for the lives of Hilarion and his friends - much more effective than the original.

Marc Shepherd: It is worth pointing out that this is exactly what happens in the Tennyson poem on which the play and the opera are based.

I don't really have a problem with it. Throughout the opera, Gilbert makes the case that Gama's sons are idiots, so the idea that they would be defeated is not at all ludicrous.

Gordon Pascoe: I have directed the fight in two ways.

(a) The Arac trio win and stand triumphant. Melissa, Psyche and Sacharrisa intervene and "bop" them from behind. Arac trio collapse (they shouldn't have supposed to take of their helmets) and the Soppy Heroes arise and stand triumphant.

(b) Arac and Hilarion fight as the reps for each side. Same thing. Arac wins. Melissa saves Hilarion (on Ida's behalf) etc. We had Chloe soothe and minister to the vanquished Arac who, once recovered, lay back and enjoyed it. Arac thus blocked down-stage centre for the entire dialogue scene that followed, forcing people to step over him on their way to resolving into couples.

We also had the "Handelian Strip-tease" number done by having the previously timid ladies over-eagerly, truth to tell, assist in the removal of helmets, brassets, etc (but not et al).

J. Donald Smith: In fact, that ending (of the three brother winning the fight) was used by Lamplighters in their Award Winning Production at the Second Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in 1995. It was extremely effective.

Rica Mendes: It has been over a year since I choreographed the fight, but here goes . . .

First, let me say that we added the second verse to the fight song to give enough time for an effective fight. Let me also say that Gayden was aiming to show a realistic view of Medieval society in the opera, so gags in the fight would not have worked as we took the fight very seriously, both in execution and attitude.

We had three fights going on simultaneously at the start: Scynthius vs. Hilarion, Arac vs. Florian and Guron vs. Cyril (Sequence One). Hilarion clearly was divinely-inspired by Ida - after all, he had just admitted it was better to die for her, Florian was just fighting for his life (not very well) and Cyril was, well, Cyril.

So here is the sequence (this is more a sequence of how people were defeated - remember, all three fights are going on at the same time):


Cyril was the first to go down - Cyril wagged his sword playfully at Guron, trying to frustrate and tease him - Guron, who was small but a brute - a la Indiana Jones vs. the Sword-juggler in Lost Ark - let Cyril play and then hacked him down.

Arac was 6'8" and Florian was only 5'3" - no contest. Arac has his own technique - hack to one side, hack to the other, hack straight down and while the opponent tries to keep the sword from crushing his skull, he withdraws his blade and slashes the opponents side in one slick move. Florian falls after Cyril.

Scynthius and Hilarion fight and Hilarion just parries him and sees a weakness - Scynthius isn't as smooth as Arac and not as brutish as Guron. Scynthius sloppily bangs on his sword until Hilarion is on his knees and then, as Scynthius clumsily raises his sword above his head, Hilarlion stabs him. Scynthius falls.

SEQUENCE TWO (towards the end of the first verse)

Arac steps back, confident that he can leave the easy kill to his little bro Guron (the others have rolled towards the side). Guron grunts as he attacks Hilarion with an assault of hacking slashes, barely parried by Hilarion. Guron believes that he has gotten Hilarion beat and goes in for the kill, raising his sword to the right for a clean cut under the arm, but Hilarion, being rather fast, slips past Guron's blind spot and behind him. Guron sweeps the sword down to where he thought Hilarion was, spins around by the momentum of the slashing move, right into Hilarion's blade.

Arac, at this point, is pretty pissed off. Standing at least a head over, Arac begins his attack, beating the snot out of Hilarion. Arac disarms Hilarion, sending his sword flying. As Arac is about to hack off Hilarion's head. Hilarion accepts his defeat and then Ida gasps (loudly over the singers, the poor dear) and Hilarion is reminded of who/what he is fighting for. Hilarion rolls under the blade of Arac and picks up his own sword. Arac begins to swing at Hilarion - when he swings high, Hilarion ducks, when he sweeps at his feet, Hilarion jumps over the sword. Finally, Arac raises his sword (a good 6 feet away from Hilarion with the intent of smashing him) and Hilarion performs a "fleche" attack - he bolts at Arac, point first, very quickly and stabs Arac in the side. (The beauty of the "fleche" attack in this instance is that if the opponent catches on, you run yourself into their sword and, if you miss, you are dead - but, it is a great attack when fighting particularly big and/or dense people and you are smaller and faster. This is also a basic foil move used in non-dueling fencing, so Hilarion would have learned this at court recreationally). Arac doesn't know what hit him and then he falls.

EVERYONE, including Hilarion, is stunned.

Updated 10 May 1998