Ivan Menzies and Elsie Griffin, two of the all-time ‘greats’ of Gilbert and Sullivan opera, married in secret and repented openly. They were often quarrelling fiercely up to the moment when the curtain rose and revealed them as two sweetly smiling lovers. They had concluded that their temperaments were incompatible and were seeking divorce, when something happened to Ivan which transformed his career and, after a time of testing, brought them together again in a happy partnership which has lasted fifty years.
The new element was a character change in Ivan so radical that it affected everything he did, on stage and off. That change proved infectious. Thousands caught it from him, and the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, where he played the operas’ comedy leads throughout the war, said he did more than almost anyone to sustain their peoples’ morale under attack. Since then, with Elsie, he has pioneered a new conception of Christian theatre with amazing results in countries as far apart as Japan, America, Nigeria and Finland.
The Song of a Merryman sparkles with the zest, humour and unexpectedness of a great comedian turned evangelist. At 80, Ivan says today: ‘I was called to remake men and nations, and that task is never finished.’