EXETER & TOURING
THE NORTHCOTT THEATRE – TILL 9 JUNE
SASHA REGAN’S ALL MALE IOLANTHE by W.S. GILBERT and ARTHUR SULLIVAN
RUNNING TIME – 2 hours 20 minutes – 1 interval
Northcott Box Office – 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 6 JUNE 2018
If there is a more joyful show on tour at the moment then I would love to see it, for this production would be hard to beat for fun, invention, beauty and a sheer abundance of talent. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing one of Sasha Regan’s productions of Gilbert & Sullivan then you have a very special treat awaiting you. Performed with an entirely male cast, a premise for the performance is offered to the audience – in this case a group of naughty schoolboys breaking into a theatre and finding a score for Iolanthe. Then, using various props and pieces of costume they find, perform the show.
Iolanthe has one of the most beautiful scores in the Gilbert & Sullivan canon and tells the story of a fairy who has married a mortal and is banished to the bottom of a river by the Fairy Queen. Throw in her son – who is half mortal and half fairy – his love interest and members of the House of Lords and you have a tale of supreme nonsense, but of beauty and comic depth.
This production first appeared in 2010 at the Union Theatre in London and has now been revived for a national tour. The company has visited the Northcott Theatre 3 times before in recent years with their versions of HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado and, having seen them all, I have never been disappointed.
The first entry of the ‘boys’ through the auditorium lit entirely by their hand torches is one of the motifs that crop up in a Sasha Regan G&S and others follow. The costumes are always nods to the characters, rather than full blown exact creations. Thus, as the boys dress as fairies, they don corsets and fringing or bunting secured around their wrists to suggest wings. The Lords all wear large dressing gowns and a variety of hats. There are no wigs, no added make-up, the femininity of the performers is portrayed purely in their acting. Lit-up mirrors provide the river, a rifle is an umbrella and a large wardrobe provides an entry/exit to the stage.
The choreography by Mark Smith is equally inventive. Some of these guys are seriously good dancers with impeccable ballet moves followed up with arm and body movement which looks like a nightmare to learn, but they are faultless.
Likewise the singing. From the deep-toned Private Willis to the lyrical and moving Phyllis each performer sings with precision and joy. It is an aural feast. How those playing the female characters reach their top notes without ruining their voice and exploding is beyond me, but they do and it is beautiful.
From the gentle opening notes to the full-blooded chorus numbers the only instrument involved is a piano, played with huge sensitivity and panache by Richard Baker. His contribution as musical director and pianist should not be underestimated and he rightly received warm adulation from the audience.
With a company show it seems a little unfair to single performances out, but I cannot ignore Christopher Finn as the vulnerable Iolanthe and Joe Henry as the rather pluckier Phyllis – his duet with Strephon (a hunky Richard Carson) was incredibly moving. Alastair Hill as the Lord Chancellor dealt with the ‘Nightmare Song’ brilliantly well and Richard Russell Edwards (a Company veteran) produced a good line in facial expressions as the Fairy Queen – a fox fur and tiara giving her authority! As Private Willis, Duncan Sandilands almost stole the show with his wonderful voice, comic timing and a spectacular cartwheel onto the stage. Everyone was at the top of their game.
Gilbert and Sullivan wrote of their time; political and social digs abound in their work and so many references are as relevant today as they were when they were written. Sasha Regan does not tamper with the music, the story or the words, they are all the original, but they are presented in an accessible and witty way which is pure delight and very, very funny; her direction is faultless.
Drop everything and go and see this production, even if you are a G&S purist – you might be surprised. Gilbert and Sullivan themselves might well have been on their feet at the end like many others were.
LORD CHANCELLOR – ALASTAIR HILL
FAIRY QUEEN – RICHARD RUSSELL EDWARDS
STREPHON – RICHARD CARSON
PHYLLIS – JOE HENRY
IOLANTHE – CHRISTOPHER FINN
LORD TOLLOLLER – ADAM PETTIT
LORD MOUNTARARAT – MICHAEL BURGIN
PRIVATE WILLIS – DUNCAN SANDILANDS
CELIA – DOMINIC HARBISON
LEILA – LEE GREENAWAY
ENSEMBLE – BENJAMIN MUNDY, REECE BUDIN, JACK HINTON, DANIEL MILES, SAM KIPLING, JAMES GULLIFORD
DIRECTOR – SASHA REGAN
CHOREOGRAPHER – MARK SMITH
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – RICHARD BAKER
ORIGINAL DESIGN – STEWART CHARLESWORTH
SET/COSUME SUPERVISOR – KINGSLEY HALL
LIGHTING DESIGNER – TIM DEILING
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR – LEE GREENAWAY
VOCAL CONSULTANT – ALAN RICHARDSON