Sheila Hancock could never be accused of playing safe, so it is no surprise that on her 81st birthday she will venture into new territory.
The former chancellor of the University of Portsmouth is to celebrate that milestone by dipping her toe into the operatic waters of Gilbert and Sullivan.
At the Guildhall on Saturday, February 22 (7.30pm), she will narrate a new concert version of The Yeomen Of The Guard.
It arises from the initiative of the university’s director of music, Colin Jagger, whose hard work and expertise Sheila admires from her time in Portsmouth between 2007 and 2012.
The occasion represents a unique collaboration between the Havant Symphony Orchestra, Portsmouth Chorus and London’s Royal College of Music in London – with Colin conducting.
Sheila, an Olivier Award winner for her performance as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, confesses: ‘I have never really liked G&S. My father, who used to sing in the pubs he ran, would occasionally do one of their comic songs and I found them entertaining, but I didn’t know their context and have never even been to a performance.’
Now an established champion of both Portsmouth and young people, she says: ‘I can’t wait for the link between the university and New Theatre Royal to get going. It is vital that all students have access to cultural activities, and that is what Portsmouth will be able to deliver.’
The Guildhall performance of Yeomen will be based on Colin’s new edition to be published by Oxford University Press this autumn.
He has gone to original sources to incorporate ‘lost songs’ and make corrections
These were first aired in a fully-staged production by the University of Portsmouth Dramatic and Musical Society in 2011, and he has now written the narration.
At the Guildhall he will conduct the Havant Symphony Orchestra, which is funding the venture, and the Portsmouth Chorus. Soloists are advanced students at the Royal College of Music.
Colin, a candidate to succeed Peter Craddock as conductor of the HSO, says the Yeomen project arose from talks about its need to increase audiences.
‘I suggested Yeomen because it was unlike anything they had done before.’
Tickets cost £18 or £14 (concessions available) from 0844 847 2362 or portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.