A much welcome revival for Sasha Regan’s all-male Iolanthe, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour
“What’s the use of being half a fairy?”
Delving into deep into your wardrobe can get you into all sorts of bother. With CS Lewis, you could end up in the wintry woods of Narnia and with Sasha Regan, you might find yourself in the dress-up fantasy world of light operetta. Of all of her all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Iolanthe is the one which I remember most fondly (its transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall perfectly done) so the news that it was the choice for this year’s revival for a UK tour left me tripping hither and thither in excitement.
And though I was a little apprehensive to revisit so beloved a production, this Iolanthe has stood up well. Mark Smith’s choreography with its suggestions of sign language for fairy speak, Stewart Charlesworth’s design making full use of the jumble box aesthetic, and Regan’s astute direction milking a show that’s more than a century old for all of its considerable comic potential and finding room for her own innovations as well. With MD Richard Baker controlling the music from his solo piano, this remains an arresting take on your G&S.
A big selling point of these productions has always been the falsetto work undoubtedly impressive from an all-male company of 16. But the score sounds best when there is the contrast between high and low, fleshing out all the contours of Arthur Sullivan’s score (possibly the best in all that he composed) and never better here than in the 18 glorious minutes of the Act 1 finale, in particular the extraordinary driving thrill of ‘Go Away Madam’.
And the cast wisely steer clear of trying to make too much sense of a plot that revels in its daftness, yet still manages to retain some of its satirical bite about the world of hereditary politics. Adam Petit and Michael Burgen as Lords Tolloller and Mountararat have the most fun here and they are partnered well, quite literally, by Dominic Harbison and Lee Greenaway as their fairy counterparts Celia and Leila. Richard Russell-Edwards also impresses as the Fairy Queen, who can’t quite hold herself together at the sight of a buff squaddie doing press-ups.
You might find more lavishly-produced or precisely-sung versions of Iolanthe but I doubt you’ll find one as unashamedly fun as this and crucially most of all, so lovingly done.