Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



DANIEL KRAVETZ: Now that I think of it, Elsie is rejecting one jester for another. If you look closely at Fairfax's dialogue and lyrics, it seems that he's always making jibes and quips, usually about such subjects as death and marriage. Consider: His first words are to the Lieutenant, speaking of death as a welcome visitor, then as the next best thing to life, and still later as a possible cure for the "thorn" of life.

The guy never seems to let up and, although others are impressed with his "bravery," he's really quite a pain in the posterior. Then he starts with the practical jokes-a paper marriage to cheat his heir of his estate. We next see him moments after he's been set free by Meryll and, for once, he almost keeps his big mouth shut. But after the finale starts, he's off on a false modesty kick in his "Leonard" disguise, joking that he's done nothing to deserve praise (it's true-he owes his life to the Meryll family) and then he gets the opportunity for big-time emoting as he seizes the opportunity to announce his own escape to the crowd in mock horror (but privately feeling damned lucky).

Although the Act I curtain falls on a comeuppance of sorts, being physically confronted by his would-be head-chopper, Act II has him once again in the smug mood, complaining of being imprisoned by his marriage. When he finds out that his wife is someone he wouldn't reject on the basis of looks, he's off on the practical joke of wooing her away from himself. Next, under pretense of helping Point woo Elsie, he wins her for himself and tells Point in so many words to bugger off (I know, Geoffrey Shovelton insists on making it a gentle, almost friendly rebuke!).

Finally, when he's allowed to be his true, free self once again, he's got one more nasty practical joke for Elsie. So we have two jesters in the story, only Fairfax has the sharper stick and his jokes serves him better. I've always wanted to insert in the finale ultimo an irresponsible laugh for Fairfax right after Elsie's second "I am thy bride" to make her realize just who her husband is. The idea that she just hasn't looked at him yet seems weak to me, whereas if she sees him in disguise and doesn't recognize him until he does some sort of "ha-ha, fooled you!" bit, it fits in better with what I think is going on.

HENRY M ODUM: I was in a production once where the tenor and others were trying to come up with ways to justify Fairfax's bad behavior-even the ending "trick" played on Elsie. They seemed-at first to want to come up with noble reasons for his actions-in effect, make him nicer, more likable, like we expect most tenor roles to be.

I'm not a tenor, but if I was, I would be relieved to play a character who was not just another cookie-cutter tenor hero! This is a character with different layers-brave, charismatic, wry sense of humor-and self-serving, insensitive, manipulative. In another production, the Fairfax reveled in what was for him, a rare opportunity to play a character with a dark side!

NICK SALES: I have played Fairfax twice up to present, and must admit that on the first occasion, I had trouble coming to terms with the characterization, and the fact that as the producer (Alistair Donkin, on both occasions) said, the character is fairly "straight" in the first Act (although admittedly he has a lot less dialogue and therefore less chance to get his personality across), whereas in the second he is certainly ultra-villain material (yeah!). Remember, although he plans to thwart Poltwistle by marrying before death, he has no scheme of his own to save his own neck and, indeed, is more than ready to die.

By the time I performed the role for the second time, I was able to spend much more time thinking the characterization through, and hopefully gave a much more rounded account of myself as him.

TOM SHEPARD: One man's opinion: Fairfax was being brotherly, deliberately playing with his new situation as Leonard. There is no reason to suppose he was seriously attracted to Phœbe, but he was not a stupid man, he had sized up the dynamics of the Wilfred-Phœbe relationship, and he was playing with it for all it was worth.

SARAH MANKOWSKI: Did Gilbert want us to dislike Fairfax?

TOM SHEPARD: I don't think so. I think Gilbert was presenting to us a wealthy and robustly testicular Elizabethan hero. In 1997, Fairfax just isn't our cup of tea, but perhaps he made the Victorian audience swoon, who knows. I can't stand him, but that's just my take on things, not what I think Gilbert wanted from his audience.

DANIEL KRAVETZ: I believe Gilbert knew what he was doing and wanted his audience to dislike Fairfax, giving them plenty of reasons. He may or may not have expected the "typical" audience reaction, which is to forgive (as Elsie seems to do) any number of misdeeds if they are committed by a handsome man in a uniform with a tenor voice. Yeomen was intended, I believe, to be just that sort of topsy-turvy opera-the tenor isn't what most of us think he should be, fooling most members of the audience as much as he fools Elsie.

ROBERT JONES: Fairfax's cruel teasing is very gratuitous and obvious. I think WSG was far more interested in his characters creating interesting plot than audience sympathy.

BARCLAY GORDON: Aren't we still being too tough on Colonel Fairfax? As tenors go, he seems to be a very decent sort of a fellow. If Fairfax was motivated almost exclusively by self- interest, as some have suggested, why does he prolong the danger to himself by staying around for Act II? Why doesn't he leave the Merylls holding the bag by slipping away at the first opportunity? He's not a scoundrel.

Nor do I think his problems are necessarily over at the final curtain. Who do we think the police are coming for when Clarence Postwhistle is found strangled to death in his pajamas?

DANIEL KRAVETZ: Well for one thing, he needs to look after "sister" Phœbe in case she's in the mood for a caress. Then there's that cute entertainer chick who fainted in his arms after the great escape. Finally, he's probably eager to find out who was the woman he married and try to get a little action going there, just because it would be "kosher." I think we can all figure out where his self-interest lies or...(whatever).

TOM SHEPARD: He hangs around in Act 2 as ostentatiously as possible, enjoying the game with his co-conspirators. Of course he never counted on Point and Shadbolt "killing him" but that probably makes him even safer, though we never find out why the river, when dragged, apparently must have come up empty, and no one seems to notice or care.

But Fairfax is having a high old time at almost everyone's expense, and his taunting of Elsie is but the last of series of taunts that had previously been directed at Jack.

C. M. WAIN: I've never thought that Fairfax's behaviour is that bad, granted always the conventions of the genre and the fact that he really knows very little about Elsie's character.

I recently saw The Merchant Of Venice. Would you really like to be married to somebody who wheedled your wedding ring off you and then gave you hell for losing it? And we're expected to believe that Bassanio and Portia lived happily ever after. I don't think that Fairfax and Elsie's chance is any less than theirs.

NICK SALES: Hang on a minute! In the first place, Fairfax is quite happy with Elsie ("Fair as a peach blossom", "as dainty a little maid as you'll find in a midsummer's day's March" etc.), and there is no earthly reason to suppose they might not be passing happy together for a long time to come. The argument that Fairfax is a cad, and so is bound to leave Elsie at some stage, frankly doesn't hold water. She's what? 16. Well, I shouldn't have thought he'd want to trade her in for a new model for at least 10 years (just kidding!)

Seriously, I don't see that Elsie was overjoyed about the prospect of marrying Point-and it's he who makes all the speeches regarding their eventual union. At no time have I looked at Elsie and saw someone desperate to get hitched to a jester. I have always thought of her "going through the motions" with Point, faute mieux. Maybe she's just waiting for someone to sweep her off her feet?

Phew! I feel as though I'm fighting Fairfax's corner all by myself. Still, never mind, we are soldiers, and.......

Page created 6 June 1997