A darker tale
Much like other Gilbert librettos, the cast of this operetta is a lovely lot – in the sense of everyone seems to be in love with one another! Set at the Tower of London, Sergeant Meryll, of the titular Yeomen of the Guard, lives with his daughter, Phœbe Meryll. At the beginning of our tale, Phœbe has gained the eye of the Jailor, Wilfred Shadbolt. Wilfred, of course, has noticed who Phœbe has her eye on: Colonel Fairfax, a much grander man. Unfortunately, he’ll be a much less pretty picture without a head, as his execution is scheduled the same day.
Hatching a daring plan involving her brother Leonard impersonating the Colonel, this is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Jack Point and Elsie Maynard, a duo of performers. Jack, of course, is infatuated with Elsie, so when the Lieutenant of the tower asks if Elsie wishes to marry Fairfax to negate her family’s financial strife, she relents.
…and all that happens within the first few scenes of Act 1. You might notice a grand total of five in our lovestruck cast: Phœbe, Wilfred, Fairfax, Jack and Elsie. Five, notoriously, is not a number which couples up easily. One of this number doesn’t get their happy ending – a rarity amongst Gilbert & Sullivan’s works!