London's West End theatres responded to the 1918 pandemic with serotonin-producing musicals, including the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.
A century on, The Gilbert and Sullivan Festival promises a joyous return to Harrogate’s Royal Hall, after last year's event was cancelled to Covid.
Festival organiser, Janet Smith, said: "The Gilbert and Sullivan Festival is what everyone needs at the moment - uplifting entertainment that takes people's minds off the last couple of years. It's just pure enjoyment and ensures audiences have a jolly good laugh."
Starting on August 8 for 11 nights until August 18, it promises a healthy dose of happiness.
Highlights include The Mikado, directed and starring celebrated comic baritone, Simon Butteriss, who was hailed by the Daily Mail in a five-star review as 'impeccable', and by The Independent as being, 'touched with comic genius.'
Now in its 28th year, Janet said cancelling the event wasn't an option: "Our loyal audiences have been so supportive, we couldn't let them down. It's also important for our fantastic opera singers and musicians, who have been unable to perform and delivering Amazon boxes through lockdowns. They've had an appalling two years. We needed to get the show back on the road for them."
Janet is also determined to continue the legacy of her late husband Ian Smith, who died in 2019. A Yorkshire businessman and skilled amateur performer, he created the festival in response to The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which had promoted the comic operas for over a century, before closing in 1982.
Janet said: "After D'Oyly Carte folded, there was no professional group performing Gilbert and Sullivan, so it was really on its way out. Ian and his son Neil were determined to do something about it, so the festival was born. This festival not only revived the genre, but it also helped stop Gilbert and Sullivan from dying out completely.”
Since 1994, Janet says the festival has 'grown ridiculously'. It began in Buxton, but moved to Harrogate in 2014. 2020 was set to be its biggest year yet before Covid hit.
Audiences and performers travel from all over the globe to Harrogate to take part. The 2021 festival will be a 'different beast', with scaled-down audiences to be Covid safe, and no significant international contingency.
The Victorian-era theatrical partnership of dramatist, W S Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan resulted in 14 comic operas, of which The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and HMS Pinafore are the best known. The operas have influenced political style and discourse, literature, film and television, and have been widely parodied by humourists.
Janet said: "I think it endures because it's great fun. It's ridiculous, it's funny and it's got the feel-good factor. Gilbert's tradition of poking fun at the British class system and politicians, in particular, is as relevant today as it was over a hundred years ago."
The festival's resident National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera company regularly secures five-star rave reviews from the Daily Mail, Times and Telegraph critics.
Paula Lorimer, Director of Harrogate Convention Centre, which manages the Royal Hall, said: "We're proud that Harrogate is home to the acclaimed Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. It's the first major entertainment event at our conference centre since we re-opened, so it's a huge joy to see them return. We normally welcome aficionados and fans from around the world, alas this won't be the case this year, but the show will go on! We look forward to giving visitors a warm welcome."
In July, Harrogate Convention Centre hosted its first major trade event, The Home and Gift Buyers' Festival, as a government test pilot, with 10,000 visitors resulting in an economic impact of £750,000.
The Harrogate Convention Centre in a normal year welcomes 150,000 visitors per year, with an economic impact on the town's hospitality sector of £35m.
Harrogate Conference Centre and its sister venue, The Royal Hall, has a packed programme of upcoming entertainment. Highlights include Michael Bolton, Jools Holland and Jimmy Carr.
To book tickets, go to: https://www.gsfestivals.org/ or call the Box on 01422 323252. Tickets are also available at the Tourist Information Centre in Harrogate.