Iolanthe, Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s first production of the year, opened with a Victorian curtain raiser by The Other Guys. The highlight of their set was a Victorian take on their popular single ‘St Andrews Girls,’ complete with some well-delivered recitative. This was a great start.
In the show, Iolanthe, a fairy beloved by all of her sisters, has been banished and forbidden to speak with the mortal she married. Twenty-five years later, all of her fairy sisters convince their Queen to bring her back. They are stunned to find out that she has a son, Strephon, who is fairy down to the waist, but whose legs are mortal. We also learn that he wishes to marry Phyllis, a ward of the court, even though the Lord Chancellor has forbidden it. A group of Peers from the House of Lords all pine for Phyllis’s affections, but it is the Lord Chancellor who values her most. Phyllis declares to them her love for Strephon, but the Lord Chancellor forbids their marriage. Strephon goes to Iolanthe for comfort, but the Peers, who have been spying on Strephon, believe he is cavorting about with another woman. They share this discovery with Phyllis, who, in a fit of anger, agrees to marry two of the Peers. Desperate, Strephon calls on the fairies for help, and the solution? Put Strephon in Parliament and aid him with fairy magic. Curious to see how it ends? You will have to come to the last performance to find out!
The program generously provided a summary of events, which came in handy as sometimes it was difficult to understand what the performers were singing, and the orchestra was directly in front of us which occasionally drowned out the singers’ voices. However, this is understandable, as Venue 1 does not carry sound as well as Younger Hall, and the singers should be commended for being able to work with the space. The orchestra should also be praised. Deceptively small, the orchestra had a full and rich sound and was able to set the tone for any scene. Musical director Laurie Slavin definitely had his hands full but triumphed as the whole show had a wonderful sound. Accolades should go to chorus master Rebecca Anderson also, as she had many people to work with and managed to elicit a cohesive and pleasant sound from all.
When it came to individual performances, little was found to be lacking. Director Dara Butterfield did an excellent job staging the performance and getting the most out of his actors. One of my favourite details was the ensemble’s wonderful presence; even when a scene was occurring between leads downstage, they still remained in character and present regardless of whether they were the main focus.
One of the best performances of the evening was that of Peter Sutton, who played the conniving Lord Chancellor. Both Sutton’s singing and acting conveyed the precise nature of the Chancellor but managed to keep the role entertaining and never grating. Always a highlight of any Gilbert & Sullivan Society performance, Dr. Ian Bradley opened the second act and deservedly received many laughs and cheers.
Both Alex Levine and Gwendolyn Davis seemed perfect for their roles, the former keeping Strephon likeable and memorable (as he is not in many scenes) and the latter commanding a strong presence as the Queen of the Fairies, both with her acting and her voice. Although smaller roles, the two Earls (played by Ruaridh Maxwell and Alex Hill) fighting over Phyllis’s affection were extremely entertaining, and Alex Hill should be applauded for her wonderful performance singing tenor! The only role I found that was a bit lacking was the role of Phyllis, played by Lucy Coatman. Her voice was lovely, but occasionally she felt a little shy, whereas it feels like Phyllis should be much bolder.
In its entirety, Iolanthe was a well-rounded production with little to fault. The light-hearted story was conveyed well by the whole cast, and the performances were always entertaining. Strong both musically and dramatically, Iolanthe was beyond enjoyable and will keep me coming to more G & S productions in the future!
Photo credits: Henry Legg Photography