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Iolanthe

Date

16th November 2017

Society

Stewartby Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society

Venue

Stewartby Village Hall

Type of Production

G&S

Director

Wendy Field

Musical Director

Alana Thackray

Report

Author: Richard Fitt

The copyright closely guarded over the last century by The D’Oyle Carte Opera Company has long since expired (1961), leaving G&S societies free to basically do what they like with the scripts. However, it takes a brave society to mess with the hallowed work and I have rarely seen anybody do so, but SAODS are one of those prepared to have a go at a little updating here and there particularly in ‘Spurn not the nobly born’. And good on ‘em! Although I haven’t seen Iolanthe performed for a good many years, from what I can remember of the original this change of some of Gilbert’s lyrics appears to have done nothing but help spread the gospel to the next generation of G & S fans. The lyrics may have had a facelift, but of course the musical score and the period setting has remained unchanged.

The sets SAODS come up with are always worth the ticket money alone.  This box set by Hazel and John Daniels was no exception. The initial scene with the fairies was set in an ornate wood complete with pond and moved on to an even more elaborately painted set of the Houses of Parliament, complete with railings and a sentry box. The attention to detail was as always to be admired.

Lighting by Richard Hull completed this splendid set and with the well-chosen appropriate washes complemented both set and costumes to maximum effect.

The costume department had certainly excelled themselves again and the various outfits, especially for the fairies were fabulous, with a basic lilac colour prevailing theme. I also particularly like the variety of head gear for the fairies. The gentlemen also being well attired in their bearskins uniforms, legal robes and Victorian parliamentary suits. Great job by Jenny Jackson.

The orchestra under the very experienced musical director, Alana Thackray were pretty much faultless which they demonstrated from the off with a beautiful performance of the overture. They certainly did justice to Sullivan’s score. Well done to Pam Davies, Maggie Bullen, Naomi Morris, Larissa Felce, Derek Davies, Cate Thomas, Jenny Brown, Helen McKay, Susan Sims, Tessa Shepherd, Janet Butlin, Kate Young, Peter Halliday and John Lingings. Great job!

The stage at Stewartby Village Hall is surprisingly small for such a magnificent building and any society with such a large cast is going to struggle to plot moves without actors bumping into each other, so my hat off to Director of Production, Wendy Field for mostly doing the impossible and giving us some great tableaus. However, if I may be so bold, do watch out for the straight lines, on quite a few occasions the actors on an uncrowded stage were stood holding conversations all standing in a row, which I felt could have been avoided most of the time.

The singing was as usual excellent, and I always enjoy my trip all the better for hearing natural voices and a real orchestra without a microphone or amplifier in the building. Most refreshing. However. I did struggle at times with the clarity of the projection. Unable to bring my wife, I was accompanied by a work colleague of hers, a keen but novice G&S enthusiast, who reported back to my other half that being unfamiliar with the story of Iolanthe, she did struggle to fully follow the plot with a few of the musical numbers. I can’t disagree with her.

This cast is hugely experienced and as the programme tells us a large percentage of them have been involved with the annual SAODS production for years and in some cases decades. So needless to say the levels of confident familiarity with the musical numbers was evidential. John Epton (The Lord Chancellor) has done this part so many times he could probably perform it in his sleep is very good and obviously enjoys the role immensely.

It was great to see Claire Moore (Phyllis) injecting new blood into the society with her first sortie into G&S. With such a lovely voice she is obviously a talent for years to come. Stephen Hoath (Strephon) has some wonderfully cheeky chappie expressions playing the role with a light touch and good empathy with his audience, able to extract a chuckle with just the odd look.  A well-matched pair.

Colin Jones (Shadow Chancellor), Charles Mills (Earl Tolloller) and Peter Davis (Earl of Mountararat) added their own brand of comedy, not to forget their top quality voices as pompous lords over the pursuit of Phyllis’ hand. 

Peter Stephens (Private Willis) was excellent with a marvellous rendition of ‘When all night long a chap remains.’ His comedic delivery was spot on and I loved the fairy wings on the back of his tunic.   

Classically trained Bex Badham was a suitably imposing Queen of the Fairies, again with a wonderful voice, whilst Carol Urwin (Celia), Margaret Snape (Leila) and Sandra Buck (Fleta) gave us some excellent soprano and mezzo-soprano respectively.

Linda Bowen was splendid in the title role and I loved the fairy dress and she was clearly far too young to have a twenty-five-year-old son.   I have never quite worked out why the play is called Iolanthe as the story is really about her son. It was apparently changed from Perola (?) at the very last minute, so even Gilbert and Sullivan were in a quandary over the matter…?

Finally, no G&S is complete without a top draw chorus so well done to Mike Cocke, Hazel Daniels, Jan Faulkner, Wendy Field, Mollie Foster, Shirley Hale, Jenny Hall, Richard Hardwick, Andrew Hodges, Hilary Hull, Doreen Hunter, Jenny Jackson, Juliet Jones, Margaret Magee, Pam Massey, Peter Stephens, Carol Wallman and Becky Wright.

As per usual a thoroughly entertaining evening, I always look forward to my annual trip out to Stewartby. Thank you SAODS.