FAMILIAR in the north for their open-air versions of Shakespeare and other plays, travelling players Illyria return to the Brahan Estate in Ross-shire this weekend, bringing a taste of Gilbert & Sullivan.
Founder and artistic director Oliver Gray explains Illyria's new move into the world of opera.
Why the move into opera after your past success with non-musical plays?
It was a tactical move, not an artistic one. The outdoor touring theatre sector is in crisis - more than 50% of it consists of companies who pay actors as little as one third of national minimum wage and do not pay statutory employers' National Inspurance. Their illegal practices invalidate their own insurance and their venues' insurance.
But they do so much business because they can offer shows for less money, and venues can make higher profits. As these companies focus heavily on cost (or rather, on reducing cost) they are restricted to public-domain titles of straight theatre.
To stand out, Illyria's chosen path has been to invest more into the productions, using more expensive copyright titles and/or musical titles which are larger and costlier to produce. Not only are these productions more popular - but they don't even expose us or the venues to any risk!
Does adding a musical element add to the challenges of performing in the open air?
Yes, it increases the challenges. There is the challenge of co-ordinating creatives from a greater array of disciplines. There is a greater emphasis on acoustics, and we have to be stricter about the venues' audience capacities.For choreography, we have to observe more carefully the safety measures connected to the weather - but we are used to this with some of our previous productions featuring extremely athletic stage-fighting sequences.
Do you need a special breed of performer?
Yes, a special type of performer is indeed required for all outdoor performances - if, that is, you're a genuinely outdoor company, and not one that calls the whole performance off at the first sign of drizzle.
No, there is no greater emphasis on the acting than on the singing. It is particularly actor/singers that we look for. If someone has a lovely voice but cannot act - or if they can act but do not have an outstanding singing voice - then they're not going to make it through our rigorous audition process.
Fortunately modern training tends to be multi-disciplined, and there are a lot of performers who are highly skilled in both - and in dance, and music and other skills too.
Any plans to expand opera beyond G & S?
In a highly competitive environment it's best not to announce one's plans too far in advance! But I can tell you there are reasons to be very excited about what's in the pipeline!
Illyria presents Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado at Brahan Estate on Sunday 18th
In the town of Titipu flirting has been made illegal. The penalty is death! Too bad then that the main culprit is the Lord high Executioner Ko-Ko, who wishes to marry his beautiful young ward Yum-Yum, and who has no intention of executing himself! So when Nanki-Pu, a wandering minstrel, decides to end it all because his own love for Yum-Yum is doomed, Ko-Ko has the perfect candidate for execution….!
Gates open at 5.00pm so you can enjoy a picnic or purchase a BBQ from The Storehouse. The play begins at 6.30pm. Rain won’t stop play but do bring a rug or chair and some midge cream – just in case!!
Adult: £16.00 Child 12.00 Family (2x2) £45.00 Supporting the Highland Hospice