Their greatest hits – an all-singing guide to Gilbert & Sullivan

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The Yeomen of the Guard

Colonel Fairfax, soldier and scientist, has been sentenced to execution in an hour on a false charge of sorcery. To avoid leaving his estate to his accuser, he marries Elsie Maynard, a singer. She prepares for the good life, but Fairfax escapes, throwing the Tower into confusion and the astonished Elsie (and her mentor, the jester Jack Point, who loves her) into despair. But Fairfax, disguised as Leonard Meryll, woos Elsie. She falls in love with Fairfax and leaves Jack Point broken-hearted. Oh, fickle woman!

Sample show-stopper: "Gallant pikemen, valiant sworders!
Brave in bearing,
Foemen scaring,
In their bygone days of daring!"

The Mikado

A thinly disguised satire of British politics, swapping the corridors of power in Westminster for Japan. Accused in more recent decades of racism (note some of the following names) it goes something like this: Nanki-Poo, son of the Mikado of Japan, flees his father's imperial court to escape marriage to a pensioner called Katisha. Disguised as a travelling musician, he falls in love with Yum-Yum, the young ward of Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor from Titipu and... you get the picture.

Sample show-stopper: "Schoolgirls we, eighteen and under,
From scholastic trammels free,
And we wonder – how we wonder!
What on earth the world can be!"

HMS Pinafore

Lowly deckhand Ralph Rackstraw and his captain's daughter Josephine are in love with each other. Josephine's hand is sought by Sir Joseph Porter. The pair plan to elope ashore but Dick Deadeye tells Captain Corcoran, whose furious reaction dismays Sir Joseph. Asked to explain, Ralph reveals his love for Josephine. After much ado, Little Buttercup saves the day by revealing that as a nursemaid, she mixed up baby Ralph with the ship's captain. Sir Joseph gladly resigns Josephine to a socially restored Rackstraw.

Sample show-stopper: "For he might have been a Roosian,
A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
Or perhaps Itali-an!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!"


Witches have cursed the Baronets of Ruddigore: commit a crime daily, or perish. Farmer Robin Oakapple loves Rose, but has a secret: he is in fact Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, Baronet of Ruddigore. The truth is revealed and Robin accepts the title. To cut a convoluted story short, he overcomes the curse and is reunited with Rose. Ahh!

Sample show-stopper: "I once was as meek as a newborn lamb,
I'm now Sir Murgatroyd – ha! ha!
With greater precision (without the elision),
Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd – ha! ha!"

The Pirates of Penzance

Frederic is meant to train as a pilot, but is mistakenly apprenticed to the Pirates of Penzance, thanks to his hard-of-hearing nursery maid. On reaching 21, believing himself to be free, he rejoices, only to find his 29 February birthday makes him a five-year-old. He takes aboard his sweetheart Mabel and her sisters, whose dad is one General Stanley. He orders that his daughters be released "in Queen Victoria's name". The pirates agree, Mabel marries Frederic, cue happy ending, applause etc.

Sample show-stopper: "I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical"