Report by Martin Handley

We tend to worry about the average age of our audiences; perhaps too much - it has after all been a concern for a long time. As far as Gilbert and Sullivan is concerned, those two are lucky to have real devotees, but they naturally need constant replenishing.

University G and S Societies are flourishing, which is good news, but what about children who haven’t a clue who G and S are?

In 2015, tenor Barry Clark and I decided to work with 10 and 11 year olds at three Bognor Regis Primary Schools. The culmination of their work was to perform short excerpts from HMS Pinafore on the Chichester Festival Theatre stage, between our Company balancing Call and the Matinee on January 21 2016, both of which the children attended.

We started with the three schools together - 100 plus children - and introduced them to Gilbert and Sullivan, by performing numbers, showing films, telling them about the Victorian theatre, the lives of G and S, and Richard D’Oyly Carte.

We also put their work in perspective with what else was going in the world at the same time – and what was being invented. The children were particularly fascinated by the 1887 recording of Arthur Sullivan’s voice, saying he was half worried, half delighted by Edison’s invention of the phonograph!

In the second session, for which we went to the individual schools, we held ‘auditions’ for those who wanted to sing roles. There were a lot of nerves, but also some very touching and inspiring moments. While we were casting, we gave them a quiz to see what they remembered from the previous session; there was a good response, and 'house points' were gained by the winning teams. We also handed out copies of Gilbert’s exquisite Bab Ballads drawings, suggesting the children could write dialogue for the pictures, colour them in, or indeed make their own cartoons.

Among the children there were a number who were fascinated with performing – even if they found it terrifying – and who made suggestions and asked questions in a wonderfully proactive way. With the help of talented teachers and teaching assistants, we produced something which showed the children’s talents and enthusiasm.

It was a big learning curve for us all, but immensely worthwhile if even just a few caught the performing bug, and others fell for the weird and wonderful world of Gilbert and Sullivan.

'The children had a wonderful day. They were exhausted! Thank you everyone for HMS – organising children, transport, costumes etc, etc.
In some ways I was surprised they enjoyed the performance as much as they did
- this made a good day great -
again, thankyou.'
Head Teacher, South Bersted School

'We have had wonderful feedback from parents and the children have really grown in confidence.
Thanks for your passion and creative energy and to everyone behind the scenes who organised coaches, helped during rehearsals and made it possible!'
Peter - Bersted School

'Just to add our thanks and appreciation too. It was pleasing to see how everything came together in the end … the saying, "it’ll be alright on the night" certainly rang true for us!
Thank you to everyone for your support, the children gained a lot out of taking part and certainly a number demonstrated a growth of confidence which we hope will transfer to other areas.'
Chris - Bersted School

'Thank you for you email, Reuben read it and beamed from ear to ear, I think you guys might of sparked a passion in Reuben for theatre … Lets hope so!!!'
Marsha Richardson