Edwardian Musicals 2013

Queen Bess “Merrie England” and “The Arcadians” Scene from Arcadians, 1909
Sunday, 23rd June 2013, 7:30 pm
The Middleton Arena, Middleton
Donald Maxwell
Donald Maxwell – Baritone and Narrator
For the last few years Oldham Choral Society’s summer concert in Middleton has featured “potted” versions of two Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas, introduced by Donald Maxwell in his inimatable witty style.  This year the same format and some of the same artists were used to present two comic operas from the Edwardian rather than the late Victorian era.  The performance was a great success, enjoyed by performers and audience alike.
Stuart Ferguson kindly provided the following review, an abridged version of which was published in the Oldham Chronicle on 28 June 2013.

Oldham Choral Society have their own time machine. Last Sunday we were transported to the Edwardian era of light comedy with a superb double-bill of concert versions of both ‘Merrie England’ and ‘The Arcadians’, both highly successful 100 years ago and brought to life with exquisite sharpness at Middleton Arena.  The Society’s recent summer concerts have showcased Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas, but time has now moved on and the Edwardians created their own frothy concoctions for light theatre which were just as popular in their time although not as enduring.The 100-strong Choral Society, with guest singers taking the principal roles, were magnificently accompanied by The National Festival Orchestra under the buoyant baton of Nigel Wilkinson, who melded choir and orchestra into a seamless unity, presenting a well-crafted performance of these two great Edwardian favourites.Principals were:Donald Maxwell (baritone), Sarah Helsby Hughes (soprano), Chloe Saywell (soprano), Andrew Forbes Lane (tenor), and Antonia Sotgiu (mezzo-soprano).

The packed arena of operetta aficionados joined in with gusto, singing along with ‘Very Charming Weather’, ‘All down Piccadilly’ and ‘The Pipes of Pan’, from The Arcadians.

‘Merrie England’ was all the better for being abridged as it allowed Donald Maxwell, as Narrator, to bring us up to date with the plot. He wittily spanned the 100-year gap between then and now with aplomb and daring as he risked comparing Arcady with Rochdale! His many asides went down very well with the audience as he poked gentle fun at the proceedings.

Oldham Choral Society had worked hard to put these shows together and the effort was well worthwhile. Another joyous evening in their company. I look forward to the next.

The Society meet on Monday evenings at Chadderton Town Hall (but currently have a break until September) and always welcome new singers. Contact Chairman Fred Jones 0161-205 4638.


Merrie England
Composed by Edward German to a libretto by Basil Hood, this operetta is very much in the tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan and was first performed in 1902 in the Savoy Theatre which was built to stage their operas.  It is a fanciful story about a love affair between Sir Walter Raleigh and Bessie Throgmorton which attracts Queen Elizabeth’s jealousy.  There are great solos, ensembles and choruses with wonderful tunes.  Well-known items are “The Yeomen of England” and “O Peaceful England”.
Oldham Choral Society has presented this work several times before, most recently in 1986. A noteworthy occasion was in November 1940 at the height of the Blitz when patriotic sentiment would have been at a premium. Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, among the best-known singing duos of that time took part, and a second performance had to be staged to accommodate demand.  Click here for more details
The Arcadians
This is a musical comedy rather than an opera with music by Lionel Monckton and Edward Talbot to lyrics by Arthur Wimeris and a script by Mark Ambient and Alexander Thompson. It had its first performance in 1909 at the end of Edward VII’s reign, and ran for 809 performances, well into George Vth’s.  The plot, remiscent of  “Iolanthe”, is about an ultimately fruitless attempt by the idyllic Arcadians to bring bring truth and simplicity to worldly London.
Other Soloists
Sarah Helsby-Hughes Chloe Saywell
Sarah Helsby-Hughes – Soprano Chloe Saywell – Soprano
Antonia Sotgiu Andrew Forbes-Lane
Antonia Sotgiu – Mezzo Andrew Forbes-Lane – Tenor
Orchestra The National Festival Orchestra
Conductor Nigel P Wilkinson

Tickets at £11 (schoolchildren £1) available from:

– Our ticket secretary on 01457 832 012

– The Arena Box Office on 0844 855 4020