Petworth and Brighton dates for the magic of G&S

Illyria theatre company bring Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore to this year’s Petworth Festival.

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 8:05 am
Rachel Lea-Gray
Rachel Lea-Gray

They will be in action on Sunday, July 25 at Bignor Park, near Pulborough, starting at 6pm and ending approx 8.10pm. (also Brighton Open Air Theatre, August 29)

Rachel Lea-Gray is delighted to be back with the company: “This is my fifth show with Illyria. I did four consecutive seasons and then didn’t work with them and then last year was the pandemic so it has been three years now.

“It is going to be creatively very exciting. There are only six of us that present the whole show. G&S’s usually have big ensembles, but with this one we are doing lots of swapping and lots of muli-roling. You are playing all sorts of different parts.”

And it is great to be back with Illyria: “They are a really lovely company to work for, really caring. They really look after you and they comply with all the Equity guidelines. They just make you feel really, really appreciated.

“They are all about making outdoor theatre accessible for all. The tagline is ‘Rain doesn’t stop Illyria!’ And they do things in a really fun way. Especially with G&S it can all be done very seriously and in a very traditional way. But ours is really funny and slapstick and upbeat.

“If you look back at the history of musical theatre, you will see so much that was in G&S, so much that has inspired later musicals, like speaking through songs. But they have become regarded as quite serious pieces when they were not! G&S are sending up all sorts of people in their shows.”

And it’s that sense of fun that the company are keen to bring out. It’s certainly not a case of sending up G&S. They treat the material with huge respect. But it is certainly a case of bringing out all the humour that is there – humour that plenty of other companies have missed over the years.

“There is brilliant humour there,” says Rachel.

At the time of the first lockdown in March last year, Rachel was doing a show called Once Upon A Mattress in Highgate: “Obviously the show closed early. And I was also meant to be doing panto and that got cancelled. But actually I was quite fortunate. I do a lot of teaching so I was able to do a lot of teaching on Zoom during the year. But my husband was working for home so we did get a bit on top of each other at times, but you have just got to adapt.”

And now things have opened up again, with the Petworth Festival date coming as part of a seven-week tour: “It is very exciting especially after a year of not going anywhere. We are going to Devon and we are going to Scotland and we are going to loads of lovely National Trust properties.”

And Rachel is confident it will all be safe: “Illyria are company that are very very Covid conscious and we will have lots of measures in place, and we are in bubbles. And I think the venues will be very very careful as well, but actually being outdoors is the safest place you can be. And the way the tickets are selling shows that people are just desperate to get back out there and to get theatre back into their lives. I think the tickets are selling better than they ever have done.”

Bring your own rugs or low backed seating and dress for the weather. Grounds open from 4.30pm for picnics.