|Date||14th August 2021|
|Venue||The Medway Centre, Bakewell|
|Type of Production||G&S|
|Musical Director||Gareth Edwards|
Author: Joyce Hanbury
It is very hard to envisage that a youth theatre company can cast, rehearse and perform a Gilbert and Sullivan show all within one week - but PB Theatricals do just that. I first witnessed this phenomenon in 2019 when they performed HMS Pinafore and I was then blown away, so my expectations for this production of Iolanthe were very high and, I was not disappointed.
Iolanthe is the story of a fairy who committed the capital crime (under fairy law) of marrying a mortal man. The Queen of the fairies commuted her sentence of death to banishment for life on the condition that she left her husband and never communicated with him again. Twenty-five years later the fairies convince the Queen to allow her to return where she reveals that she has a son, Strephon, who is a fairy down to his waist but has mortal legs. He has fallen in love with Phyllis, a ward of the Lord Chancellor, and wants to marry her, but, there is a problem as all the peers in the House of Lords are fighting for her hand, including the Lord Chancellor. Strephon enlists his mother to help him win his lover’s hand by convincing the Lord Chancellor to allow him to marry. The Peers seeing him with a young woman, who is in fact his mother (fairies do not age, and so Iolanthe looks to be a girl of seventeen), try to convince Phyllis that her love is being unfaithful, and as a punishment, the Fairy Queen, makes Strephon a Member of Parliament, magically able to pass any bill he wants. In the meantime, the fairies all fall in love with the Peers and the Fairy Queen finds herself with a political and moral mess on her hands but the Lord Chancellor suggests the the law be amended so that it is a crime for any fairy not to marry a mortal. The Queen happily selects a mortal for herself and invites everyone to join her in Fairyland.
There were no elaborate sets or props just decorated painted flats with two triangular ones used to depict different locations and in the absence of the usual tiering the audience and actors were all on the same level in this vey small auditorium. There was no orchestra, only a pianist, but what an accomplished pianist - Amy Bladon was just excellent.
To begin with there was a large calendar on the stage showing 2020 with cancelled written across it and cast members came from all directions looking totally distraught. Then appeared 2021 and everyone began to jump for joy as they realised that things had changed and so as it were, on with the show!
In the title role Ellie Taylor was delightful and her beautiful singing of ‘My lord, a suppliant at your feet’ was enchanting. As the Lord Chancellor Aiden Turner totally commanded the stage as befits the role and gave a fine rendition of ‘Love unrequited robs me of my rest’. Lou-Anne Binns was so impressively regal as the Queen of the Fairies. Her fabulous powerful singing voice together with her great acting skills were exceptional. I loved the scene where she was flirting with Private Willis, well played by George Taylor, who never flinched so much as an eyelid during her amorous advances. A splendid performance came from Sam Higginbottom as Strephon and Liddy Buswell was charmingly feisty as Phyllis. Sam and Liddy both excelled in acting and singing. Two outstanding performances came from Benedict Parkin as Earl of Mountararat and Jamie Benson as Earl Tolloller. They were a terrific double act playing off one another superbly. Their powerful, rich singing voices were amazing and coupled with their fine acting skills they were just brilliant. Excellent support came from the three main fairies Olivia Irving-Wilson (Celia), Katy Beale (Leila) and Rihannah Lomas (Fleta). All three were enchanting and their singing, and acting skills were sublime as too, were those of the delightful Fairy Chorus including Lie Jennings - who performed a beautiful solo dance as Glinda. The glorious singing from the Chorus of Peers was top-notch, especially evident in ‘Loudly let the trumpet bray’ where their strident entrance was magnificent. Both the Fairies and the Peers were totally involved with events and their disciplined interactions to them were first-rate. I must say, that the singing from all the soloists, small groupings and full harmonious chorus numbers was absolutely awesome. Costumes were basic but were in keeping with the traditional concepts of the show. It is quite unbelievable that this production was put together in just one week, so praise indeed must go to the whole of the Production Team, to the Director, Pamela Leighton-Bilik, the Musical Director, Gareth Edwards and of course, to the wonderful and extremely talented young cast.