Star rating: ****
Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe landed at Malvern Theatres this week courtesy of the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company and it was a joy to behold. In my previous experience, there aren’t many companies who do G & S like this talented ensemble do, Iolanthe is in safe hands with them that’s for sure.
Directed by Cav. Vivian J. Coates and choregraphed beautifully by Mary MacDonagh, it’s a picturesque rendition of the tongue-in-cheek tale of Fairies, Peers and a twenty-something shepherd who is half mortal and half fairy. Peppered with hilarious comedy, an extraordinary score and romance galore, it’s one of my favourite G & S shows.
The title refers to banished fairy, Iolanthe who was a favourite of the Queen of the Fairies but whom she was forced to send away when she married a mortal, namely the Lord Chancellor. Unbeknown to her Fairy family, Iolanthe conceived and gave birth to Strephon, half mortal and half fairy, and he is set to marry his sweetheart, Phyllis (who coincidentally happens to be ward of the Lord Chancellor) when Iolanthe is permitted to return to the realm. Phyllis is adored by the entire House of Lords. However, they have no means of turning the head of the young beauty until she suspects her love of two-timing her. A long explanation follows and the Queen of Fairies determines that the only way to resolve the situation which is complicated in the extreme, is to send Strephon to parliament, which is perhaps not the wisest solution. Overall it’s a tale of controversy and ultimately love punctuated with numerous musical numbers to narrate the action. ‘Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither’, ‘When I Went To The Bar’ and ‘Oh, Foolish Fay’ being just a few of my personal favourites.
It was no surprise to find Richard Gauntlett in the role of Lord Chancellor, he did it justice of course and coped brilliantly with the archetypal quick-paced numbers. Nicholas Sales was in fine voice as George, Earl of Mountarat and made a superb double act with Eddie Wade as Thomas, Earl Trolloller. Bradley Travis was an excellent choice for the role of Strephon, I was transfixed by his exceptional vocal ability and I enjoyed his duets with bride-to-be Phyllis (Rosanna Harris). Jennifer Parker was quite captivating in the title role of Iolanthe, I particularly enjoyed her scenes with the Lord Chancellor. Gaynor Keeble gave a flawless performance as Queen of the Fairies, her quirky inflections and stunning mezzo voice characterised the role perfectly. Her scenes with Private Willis (Matthew Siveter) were among many of my personal highlights as their comic timing shone through spectacularly. A mention must also go to Stephanie Poropat as Celia, one of the Fairies. From the moment she danced on, light on her feet and her sheer gentility, she drew my attention immediately.
The only area that the recent ENO’s production excelled in, in comparison to this rendition has to be in the costume department – and that’s to be expected in the nicest possible way. Certainly from a vocal, performance and overall production perspective, there’s little to choose between them. If you can see this show in Harrogate, I highly recommend you buy a ticket as fast as you can!
Book your tickets and check out tour dates for all of the productions from the exceptionally talented National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, here: https://www.ngsoc.org/