Here’s a pretty how-de-do … The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival is returning to Buxton Opera House for summer 2022, after a nine-year gap.
Founded in 1994, the annual jamboree for all enthusiasts of the Victorian operetta partnership ran in the High Peak spa town for 20 years, until 2013, when it abruptly announced it was moving to Harrogate for the next year’s shows. There had been a disagreement with the local authority in Buxton, and Neil and Ian Smith, the festival founders and organisers, concluded they could no longer do business with them.
Harrogate proved popular and the town's Royal Hall (the former Kursaal for spa enthusiasts) had the town’s convention centre alongside, home to Festival Club and fringe events.
But now the festival returns to the High Peak, firing on almost all its professional cylinders, with a new two-centre arrangement. The event begins in Buxton on July 30 until the following weekend, then from August 10-21 moves to Harrogate.
In both cases the festival’s own, professional National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company will appear in three productions (Iolanthe, The Pirates of Penzance and Utopia Ltd, in productions by Opera North principal John Savournin, Sarah Helsby Hughes, and Jeff Clarke of Opera della Luna fame), and there will also be visits from Opera della Luna itself, with its version of HMS Pinafore; Forbear! Theatre with The Gondoliers, and Charles Court Opera, with Patience.
“Everybody loves Buxton,” says Neil Smith, “and returning there this year is going to be a real fillip. Buxton always sells well.
“When we gave up on the town, there was a recession on and things also became very unpleasant. But we have managed since to bring some of our professional shows to the Opera House – though last year, for obvious reasons, we had to pare everything down. Sadly, the Pavilion Arts Centre next door isn’t available to us now, so we can’t do the Festival Club there. But we do have a fringe, as we are able to do things in St John’s Church.”
Amateur contributions to the International G&S Festival have always been an integral part of the programme, and Peak Opera, the community group formed in the town as a result of the festival’s visits, is in the Buxton programme this time. Harrogate has the majority of the amateur shows, and runs for longer.
“Harrogate has facilities Buxton doesn’t,” said Neil Smith. “There’s the Convention Centre, and there are lots of hotels and restaurants in the town.
“But it would be hard to find a theatre as beautiful as Buxton Opera House. The Royal Hall in Harrogate was built to be a place to walk around after taking the waters, and its backstage area is limited. So we have created our own pop-up “Savoy Theatre” in the exhibition hall in the past and done our youth productions there.
“You know, back in 1994, when dad and I were starting all this off, Harrogate said no to us. We thought of York, using the Opera House there, but then dad said: ‘Why not Buxton?’ – and I remember saying ‘Where’s Buxton?’ Now there are people around the world who know about Buxton because of this festival.”
He’s a Yorkshire lad, so you have to forgive him if he exaggerates a bit. But never mind the whys and wherefores – Buxton's back.
Info and tickets here