Oxford Castle has witnessed some extraordinary sights during its 1000-year history, but never has it seen colourfully-dressed Yeomen striding among its ancient walls. All that is about to change, as the castle is soon to become the backdrop for a professional production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard, which will run for a week from August 30.

The production, by the critically-acclaimed Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, is being brought to Oxford from the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton, Derbyshire, where it ran for three performances. It is directed by Jeff Clarke, best known as the founder and artistic director of the Bicester-based Opera della Luna.

For festival chairman and artistic director Ian Smith — who founded the popular G&S extravaganza in 1994 — this move beyond the company’s spiritual home is a dream come true.

“We’d expressed an interest to a lot of people in taking the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company to a stately home, or to do something in a special location,” he says. “Then we got the introduction to Oxford Castle, and they were very keen when we said we could do The Yeomen of the Guard in this very dramatic setting.

“I’m just hoping that the weather will be fine, because we’ve never done anything like this before, and that everybody will enter into the spirit of what could be a fantastic week.”

The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival has evolved from a fairly modest event to one that now attracts G&S addicts from all over the world, with performances by professional and amateur groups interwoven with a variety of fringe events, from talks and workshops to individual recitals.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company — of which Ian is, understandably, enormously proud — began with professional principals backed by amateur choruses, before becoming fully professional 13 years ago.

The principal line-up in Oxford features many of the performers who have become firm favourites in Buxton.

“We’ve got a fabulous cast,” says Ian. “In the old D’Oyly Carte days, they had principals who came back year after year, and we’re trying to do the same. So now we’ve got a foundation of the leading experts of G&S who are performing with us in Buxton, and will move with us to Oxford.”

Leading the cast are festival stalwarts Bruce Graham and Jill Pert, as Sergeant Meryll and Dame Carruthers respectively. Both were principal understudies in the old D’Oyly Carte, and have become much-loved performers among the Buxton audiences.

Oliver White, a regular in Buxton since 2003, reprises the role of Colonel Fairfax, which he first sang at the Savoy with the New D’Oyly Carte in 2002, and again in Buxton in 2006. Local audiences may remember his recent appearance at the Cornerstone, Didcot, as Alexis in Opera della Luna’s The Sorcerer.

Also familiar to local Opera della Luna supporters is Philip Cox, who has sung Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore, Frank in Die Fledermaus and, most recently, Dr Daly in The Sorcerer at the Cornerstone. He made his G&S Opera Company debut in Buxton last year as Gama in Princess Ida, and plays Shadbolt in this year’s Yeomen.

They are joined by Charlotte Page, one of the country’s leading G&S sopranos, who sings Elsie; Richard Gauntlett, who sang Sir Joseph Porter (HMS Pinafore) and the Judge (Trial by Jury) in Buxton last year, and returns this year as Jack Point; and Ciara Hendrick, making her G&S Opera Company debut as Phoebe.

Also appearing is the National Festival Orchestra, the festival’s resident orchestra since its launch, and John Owen Edwards, one of Buxton’s regular conductors and former music director of the New D’Oyly Carte.

Ian is delighted that Jeff Clarke has agreed to direct the production. “We’re very lucky, because Jeff is — as we’ve seen from Opera della Luna — a highly innovative and imaginative director.

“The set will be quite spectacular, and very different to what audiences will have seen in Buxton. We’ll have the authenticity of the Castle, so we’ll be using what’s there, which is highly appropriate for what is considered to be Sullivan’s finest score with Gilbert and one of their strongest stories.”

After the short run at Buxton’s Edwardian Opera House, the cast will have just two days to restage the production at Oxford Castle. But Ian is confident the company will meet the challenge.

“We’ve had fantastic help from the staff at the castle. They really want this to work, and hope that it can be repeated in years to come. If we’re successful in Oxford this year, there are one or two other shows that could follow. I could see doing Princess Ida in Oxford Castle. “So, fingers crossed — as I say, the weather is key. But we’re promised an Indian summer, so let’s hope that Oxford’s going to be bathed in sunshine.”

lThe Yeomen of the Guard is at Oxford Castle from August 30 to September 5. Box office: 01422 323252 or visit wegottickets.com. Further details available at oxfordcastle.com