Reviewed – 16th May 2018
“There is an assured originality to Regan’s take on the proceedings”
Following on from ‘HMS Pinafore’, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘The Mikado’ Sasha Regan continues with the winning formula of an all-male cast with her revival of “Iolanthe”. The triumph of this concept is that it transcends the ‘gimmick factor’ of men trying to be girls. Instead, each member of the fine cast fully inhabits their character, irrespective of gender. While remaining faithful to the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan, there is an assured originality to Regan’s take on the proceedings.
Torches flash in the darkness of the auditorium as a motley crew make their way to the stage as though breaking into an old schoolhouse. They discover an old copy of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe”, from where the journey through the absurd and gloriously silly story begins. Twenty-five years previous to the action of the opera, Iolanthe, a fairy, had committed the capital crime of marrying a mortal. The Queen of the Fairies, however, commuted her sentence to banishment, on condition that Iolanthe leave her husband and never see him again. Her son, Strephon, now twenty-five has grown up in the mortal world despite being half fairy and is engaged to marry Phyllis – the ward of the Lord Chancellor. But being a mere shepherd, he is not thought worthy by Phyllis’ guardian. Further mayhem ensues when Iolanthe, who has not aged in the quarter of a century, has her exile revoked and is reunited with her son.
As haywire as Gilbert’s libretto is, it is juxtaposed with perhaps the most beautiful of Arthur Sullivan’s scores. This combination makes for a compelling evening. Musical Director, Richard Baker provides the sole accompaniment at the piano, a device that highlights the melodies and allows the voices to take centre stage. That said, though, there were moments that begged for a more varied sound track to stir up the dynamics. But what it lacked in light and shade was compensated for by the quality of the singers. Close your eyes for a moment and it is easy to forget that this is an all-male cast. There is a purity to the finely tuned falsetto that is genuinely moving.
Christopher Finn’s ‘Iolanthe’ has an extraordinary quality to his voice that stands him out, despite having a lesser share of the spotlight than the title character merits. But it is very much an ensemble piece; and each actor, whether in the male or female registers handle the harmonies and the quick-fire patter of the lyrics with ease. And all this marvellous singing is done with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Only a top notch team can afford not to take itself too seriously in such a relaxed manner. Mixing a fairy story with political satire is always going to be a tall order but this show wins us over with its own eccentric mix of magic and mastery.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Harriet Buckingham
Richmond Theatre until 19th May and touring