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Trial by Jury

Trial by Jury, ‘A Novel and Original Dramatic Cantata’, was first produced on 25 March 1875, at London's Royalty Theatre, where it initially ran for 131 performances.

In 1868 Gilbert wrote a single-page piece for the magazine Fun entitled Trial by Jury: An Operetta. Drawing on Gilbert's brief time as a barrister, it detailed a trial going awry, in the process satirising the legal system. One part that was not a satire was the basic premise of the piece; in the Victorian era, a man could be required to pay compensation should he fail to marry a woman to whom he was engaged. In  Gilbert's day, a breach of promise case could be tried at the Court of the Exchequer (which generally dealt with tax matters) by the aid of the legal fiction that the wrong done to a young woman by the heartless conduct of a man rendered her unable to pay her taxes.

In 1873, Gilbert arranged with the opera manager and composer Carl Rosa to expand Trial by Jury into an operetta. When this fell through due to the death of Rosa’s wife, Gilbert offered the libretto to the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, who suggested that he take it to Arthur Sullivan. Gilbert and Sullivan’s first collaboration had been the 1871 Christmas entertainment, Thespis. Following this, Gilbert had written several short stories and created a dozen theatrical works, including Happy ArcadiaTopsyturveydom and Sweethearts. At the same time, Sullivan wrote various pieces of religious music, including the Festival Te Deum and The Light of the World. However, the two men were not totally out of contact, and they collaborated on three parlour ballads: The Distant ShoreSweethearts (inspired by Gilbert's play) and The Love that Loves Me Not. When the librettist presented the piece to the composer on 20 February 1875, Sullivan was enthusiastic and the music was composed very quickly.

Trial by Jury was part of a triple bill, alongside Offenbach’s La Périchole, and the one-act farce Cryptoconchoidsyphonostomata. Offenbach’s works were then at the height of their popularity in Britain, but Trial by Jury proved even more popular than La Périchole, continuing to run after the other piece closed. The composer's brother, Fred Sullivan, starred as the Learned Judge. One of the choristers in Trial by Jury, W. S. Penley, went on to a successful career as comic actor, culminating with the lead role in the original production of Charley's Aunt.

The success of Trial by Jury spurred several attempts to reunite Gilbert and Sullivan, but difficulties arose. Plans for collaboration for Carl Rosa in 1875 fell through because Gilbert was too busy with other projects, and an attempted Christmas 1875 revival of Thespis by Richard D'Oyly Carte failed when the financiers backed out. Gilbert and Sullivan continued their separate careers, although both continued writing light opera, including Sullivan’s The Zoo, and Gilbert's Eyes and No Eyes and Princess Toto. They would not be reunited until The Sorcerer in 1877.

Cast for Trial by Jury - 2012

The Learned Judge     -    Richard Straw
The Plaintiff    -                  Jane Corbitt
The Defendant    -             Tom Belilios
Counsel for the Plaintiff -  Michael Gardner
Usher    -                             Mike Buyers
Foreman of the Jury    -     John McCauley


John Boothroyd, Nigel Corbitt, Roger Crowther, Norman Hodgson, John Kitson, Andrew Neale, Paul Newman, Peter Walker

Ladies Chorus & Bridesmaids

Clare Abley, Pam BoakChris Boothroyd, Elizabeth Brown, Val Corbitt, Rita Fallon, Julie Gardner, Rachel Hardy, Bev Henderson, Sandra Holden, Helen McCree, Jenny Parkin, Anne Richardson, Gertie Roxborough, Carol Straw, Julia Straw, Joyce Teven, Alexandra Thomson, Gillian Tullock, Kathy Waites, Karen Wylie