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Iolanthe

Date

6th October 2017

Society

Poynton G & S Society

Venue

Poynton Civic Centre

Type of Production

G&S

Director

Richard Huggett

Musical Director

Catherine Silman

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

The received wisdom about ‘Iolanthe’ is that it marks the moment when WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's partnership absolutely hit its stride, not so much musically or due to any extraordinary success of the piece but more so as a cornerstone in their archive being their first creation to be staged at their purpose built Savoy Theatre. Many avid theatre goers will likely be aware that the Savoy Theatre on London’s Strand, adjoined to the equally famous hotel of the same name, still stands today and operates as one of the West Ends most prestigious theatre venues.  

For those unfamiliar with this title, in brief, fairyland gets embroiled with the then-contemporary Westminster.

The evening abounds with feyness with lady-fairies sporting tiaras, stuck-on glittery wings and light up wands adopting a put-on flimsiness that's too knowing to ever possess the power to enchant but ultimately adds to the humour and absurdities which seems to fit perfectly in tune with the tone of this piece. There's a matching hollowness in the political sphere with regal peers issuing rounds of earnestness and open self-mockery.

Sarah Parker offered good humour in the early scenes as her character part ‘the Queen Of Fairyland’ and we’re soon introduced to Jeannette Wood’s take on the banished Iolanthe who was in fine voice and commanded her time on stage with ease and expertise.  

This stinging satire on the House of Lords and the dim-witted party political system of Victorian England might involve fairies and Arcadians, but it also includes puffed-up, privileged and ineffective politicians. In our current political state with Brexit and a Twittering Trump, a musical work from 130 or so years ago is still as relevant today as it was then.

The music is good, although essentially lacks the sense of those blockbuster songs that enliven the likes of ‘The Mikado’ or ‘Pirates’. I appreciate that being a G&S society you’re very much expected to present the range of the G&S inventory and I’m wholly enjoying being introduced to each of them, filling in a gap of music theatre history I knew so little about before taking on my NODA role, but that said, I’m starting to come to my own conclusion of why their more commercial operettas are so and understanding how they’ve stood the test of time, mainly, in my opinion, due to the strength and vigour of their scores.  

The choral work, under the musical direction of Catherine Silman, is especially strong with the cast delivering the choral numbers with such an opulent quality, particularly from the gentlemen of the ensemble who really do belt out a rich and magnificent sound making Poynton G&S quite a refreshing and unique group to have such a mighty sound from one half of the ensemble which is so often overshadowed by the other in this game.  

Those unfamiliar with the show may find some of the sung text a struggle to follow as, at times, the collective diction is lacking. Mike Nash as The Lord Chancellor gets to deliver the showpiece patter song, most of which went over my head due to missing the majority of the lyrics. These quick wordy comic songs are indeed tricky to pull off but not articulating them clearly will result in being nothing more than a bouncy tune with muffled lyrics.Andrew Pugh was, as usual, in fine voice this time as the Earl Tolloller and Ian Whitfield was brilliantly pompous as the Earl Of Mountararat. We were treated to a nice turn too from Stephen Hill on duty as Private Willis in his sentry box.

‘Iolanthe’ does not present the same level of emotional variety as the other G&S works I’ve seen to date – the story is principally comic with only one real moment of tenderness in Act II when Iolanthe reveals herself to the Lord Chancellor, and this moment in itself is brief albeit beautifully savoured as much as it could be. Consequently, an audience must rely on the abilities of the creatives to really inject the piece with life and visual interest which also, given its themes and setting, has the potential to be quite a visual spectacle.   

Congratulations on another excellent house, the Civic Hall was again full with an audience made up of all ages which is extremely encouraging and long may this continue for you!