Iolanthe

Iolanthe marks the halfway point, and quite a highlight, of Gilbert and Sullivan’s enormously successful 25-year collaboration. It’'s often overshadowed by the more well-known HMS Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance, but musically it’s one of their best works. It tells a distinctly Shakespearean tale of fairies and star-crossed lovers, along with a large and unsubtle satirical dig at the peerage – a theme Gilbert and Sullivan had toyed with in previous works.The Queen of the Fairies has pardoned Iolanthe after 25 years in exile for marrying a mortal; her husband is the Lord Chancellor and they have a son, Strephon (a fairy only ‘down to the waist’), who is in love with his father’s ward, Phyllis. But the Lord Chancellor is unaware that Strephon is his son and thinks his wife Iolanthe is dead. On top of this, not only does he have ambitions to marry his ward, so do half the House of Lords. But being a comic opera, you know this twisted plot will all work out, Scooby Doo-style, in the end.Producer-Director Sasha Regan hits on an ingenious conceit with this all-male production. The show opens in the basement of a boy’s boarding school when the lads discover a dusty copy of Iolanthe and decide to stage it.Stewart Charlesworth’s design is to be commended. Costumes are fashioned from items conceivably found in old trunks and packing cases, wings made from bunting and hair buns from shuttlecocks – an attention to detail that makes this piece shine. It’s a visual feast. There may be no girls on stage, but not once does it come across as bad drag. You can slip into their fantasy, but still step back and see boys playing dressing-up games.How can these hairy-chested fellas possibly pull off the girl parts up in the higher parts of Jenny Lind’s register? I still don’t know; they just do. Alan Richardson playing Phyliss has incredible control of his voice in falsetto. Close your eyes and you hear a talented female artist. Open them, and it’s Alan. In a dress. Which looks like it could have been made from some old curtains. Equally vocally-talented is Christopher Finn as Iolanthe, delivering a moving performance that gives the show heart in the midst of madcap satirical tomfoolery.The big production numbers – of which there are many – are gorgeously fluid. Choreographer Mark Smith brings sign language to the precisely-directed movement, which adds an intriguing dimension and yet another of the many layers of detail this show has in spades. With 16 actors on stage, and a sell-out capacity of just 50 in the audience, you do rather feel that you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s difficult to find fault with Iolanthe.

Reviews by Pete Shaw

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The Blurb

The company that produced and created the Award-Winning Pirates of Penzance are teaming up for their next collaboration.

Iolanthe is a topsy-turvy love story involving fairies and members of the House of Lords - a political fairy tale that only Gilbert & Sullivan could conceive. First performed in 1882, Iolanthe is one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s fourteen musicals, and is universally regarded as one of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s most beautiful scores - a high water mark in terms of music, wit, cleverness, and colour.